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preacher glasses in bali – vivian coleman


My spiritual director once told me to be alert for the “nudge of the Spirit’ when I was on holiday. Ever since, on trips away, I pay attention to heart leaps that tell me God is nudging. Sometimes there’s a pointed message for a situation at home, and sometimes it’s an idea for a sermon. This month in Bali I felt his nudge over and over, as I saw hundreds of little floral arrangements on the road, in shops or in front of statues. You see, every day in Bali, people make colourful little flower baskets to offer to their gods. 90% Balinese are Hindu, so it’s for the bigtime gods like Ganesh, but also to appease evil spirits thought to be hanging around.

Clearly I have a different world view, but every day I “wondered with God” about hand-made offerings I saw in shops and markets. Ones from the day before were trodden into the rubbish of the Indonesian streets. And every day, I felt the Spirit say, “Look at that”. It is my practice, when I feel that nudge, to prayerfully ask myself, ‘What is there about that God wants me to notice?” It became my prayer pattern as various shades of meaning came to mind. And of course I had on my preacher glasses, and noticed a heap of stuff to file away in my conceptual kete.

The rub is, I don’t know when I will use these ideas. I am no longer preaching every week, and in fact the urgency of thesis-writing means I won’t do so for months. It will take a particular context for the idea to come back into the foreground. So for this post, I crafted a list of possible contexts:

  • Balinese floral offerings are a thing of beauty. When we see and appreciate God’s work in creation, and the human capacity to also create a thing of beauty, we are called to worship. That could fit in a preaching context of praise, spiritual pathways, or our role as co-creators with God.
  • Hindus, my Indian friend tells me, make these offerings out of a motive of fear. They believe if they don’t make offerings to placate the spirits, their day, their life, won’t go right. Some of us Christians can feel that way about daily devotions, but is it fear that drives us, or love? Wondering about that could work in a sermon about grace, about motivations, even about the Exodus (where God first delivered the Hebrews, then taught them how to live his way).
  • A third tack could come from the mess the street offerings make as they get trodden underfoot by passers-by. Each time I saw one, I was reminded of my own ‘depravity’, and the emotional rubbish I pick up daily. And I was heartened by the good news of restoration Christ brings to a broken life.
  • A more obvious illustration is our own offerings to God – money, gifts or time. The Balinese include in their offerings pieces of their daily life – fruit, cookies, even cigarettes. How do we as Christians offer our daily human experiences to God? That’s a theme for many preaching occasions.
  • Fifthly, hospitality came to mind as I made one of these baskets myself, as part of a special dinner. I was ambivalent about participating, but I felt led to a spirit of grace; I wasn’t expected to offer it to any statue. And it made me wonder what it feels like when visitors to church are invited to participate in communion or some other ritual of our worship. Missional questions abound.

So in a far country, away from my normal spiritual disciplines, I had conversations with God every day. And I just know I’ll get to use that evocative image some time!

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