Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Forth telling

Weather forecasters know absolutely nothing whatsoever about the future. No gift or training of any sort can confer on them (or any of us) the ability to tell fortunes. What a weather forecaster is required to be is not an expert about the future but an expert about the present and an expert about the past.

Forecasters needs to be experts about the present. They need to know exactly what the situation is now. A huge range of factors have to be observed, measured and understood. If even a single relevant one is forgotten, missed or neglected, they are starting from the wrong place.

Forecasters needs to be experts about the past. They need to know widely what the situations have been. A whole wealth of experience, record keeping and analysis is needed. If this doesn’t given a handle on exactly what went on (and, if possible, why), forecasting ability is badly compromised.

Only with deep knowledge of the past and the present can forecasters say ‘those who have been in the present situation have most often found that what happens next is...’ or 'the implication of where we are now is...'.

And (although more often than not they are right) even then they know what they predict may not be what does happen next. Sometimes they even know as they speak that the evidence could point to other less likely outcomes. They may have misread or been unable to take into account one of the factors about the present or the past (or the moment just after which they spoke) which will skew their forecast.

So what? Not much really, except that it is an image I’ve recently found myself using often in quite different circumstances, so I’ve been trying to think it through.

It is close to Bible study in which I’ve engaged in the past about the nature of prophecy not so much as fore-telling (almost like a magical knowledge of what God is about to do) but as forth-telling (a working out of the implications of where we are before God which most people do not see).

It seemed a helpful way of understanding why those in the nursing and medical profession cannot always be ‘accurate’ about the timing of someone’s approaching death, either when asked ‘how long have I got?’ or when a relative is called to a bedside either too early or not quickly enough.

It is helping me explore one element of priesthood and church leadership in trying to accompany the discipleship of individuals or of churches or of communities. In the process it has attracted me more to the strengths and hubristical vulnerability of the ‘liberal catholic’ position, if you understand ‘liberal’ as a rigorous attention to things as they really are and ‘catholic’ to be a thorough engagement with our whole inheritance of faith.

The light was falling on the east window in St Michael’s after a Funeral there yesterday, but the photogarph doesn't begin to capture the way it made it glow.

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