This week in my reading I came across a wonderful quote from James Joyce: ‘Mistakes are the portals of discovery.’
I want to use this quote as the focus of my contribution to this month’s Informer.
The word Portal(s) is a word I have not used or seen for a while. It sounds like a word that is more at home within the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit books, rather than everyday life. A quick glance at the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary revealed that portal can be used to describe an imposing doorway or gateway. It is also used in the language of computer technology to describe an Internet site that is an entry point to other web sites. I also discovered that portal refers to a point of entrance to an organ of the human body, especially the transverse fissure of the liver, through which the blood vessels enter; along with a local library being: a portal of knowledge.
My imagination was really fired with the idea of a portal in computer technology and a library being a portal of knowledge imagination. How about the Church being a portal? This then raises a further question, what will people find when they enter the portal of the Church? Perhaps I am ahead of myself, for the question needs to be asked; what kind of portal are we presenting to those that arrive at our place, seeking to explore or reflect upon their spirituality?
Believe it or not it takes great courage to arrive at a church, when you have not been attending for many years, for often one remembers church as it was not how it is now. It is important that we constantly reflect on the portal into our community.
This week I received a copy of a report from the Anglican Church in the UK (From Anecdote to Evidence: Findings from the Church Growth Research project 2011-2013), on Churches that have bucked the decline trend and experienced new vitality and numerical growth. A quote at the beginning of this report says:
“There is no single recipe for growth; there are no simple solutions to decline. The road to growth depends on the context, and what works in one place may not work in another. What seems crucial is that congregations are constantly engaged in reflection; churches cannot soar on autopilot. Growth is a product of good leadership (lay and ordained) working with a willing set of churchgoers in a favourable environment.” Professor David Voas. (Italics added)
Becoming a welcoming portal community requires we constantly reflect on what we do, for there will be times we get things wrong, we will make mistakes, but, through them will be the portals of discoveries, of a whole new way of being church.
Because of space I want to mention these four discoveries that came out of apparent mistakes, but actually the mistake was the portal for discovery:
Inventor: The Kellogg brothers, John and Will
What they were trying to make: A pot of boiled grain
How it was created: The brothers accidently left a pot of boiled grain on the stove for several days. The mixture turned mouldy but the product that emerged was dry and thick. Through experimentation they eliminated the mould part and created corn flakes.
Post – it – notes
Inventor: Spenser Silver, a researcher in 3M Laboratories
What he was trying to make: A strong adhesive.
How it was created: While working away in his laboratory Silver created an adhesive that was actually weaker than what already existed. It stuck to objects but could be pulled off easily without leaving a mark. Years later a colleague spread the substance on little pieces of paper to mark his place in his choir hymn book, and the idea was born.
Inventor: Percy Spencer, an engineer with the Raytheon Corporation
What he was trying to make: Spenser was conducting a radar related research project with a new vacuum tube.
How it was created: Spenser realised that the candy bar in his pocket began to melt during his experiments. He then put popcorn into the machine, and when it started to pop, he knew he had a revolutionary device on his hands.
Inventor: Sir Alexander Fleming
What he was trying to make: Ironically Fleming was searching a wonder drug that could cure diseases. However, while he was throwing away his experiments in the rubbish thinking they had not worked, that he found something very different.
How it was created: Fleming noticed that a contaminated Petri dish (a shallow, circular glass or plastic dish with a loose fitting cover over the top and sides, used for culturing bacteria and other micro-organisms.) he was discarding in the rubbish contained a mould by itself, he learned that it contained a powerful antibiotic, penicillin.
These wonder – filled stories, demonstrate how apparent failure and mistakes are the portals to the discovery of something new and life giving. The key is the constant reflective awareness on the extra – ordinary of the unexpected in the ordinary.
We can learn so much from our mistakes along with constantly reflecting on what we are doing as a community of faith, and / or the portal into a community of spiritualties. This means we don’t have to be afraid of change or, of attempting new ways of being church. This will of course lead us into further discoveries of what it means for our shared humanity on our communal journey of becoming a community.
I conclude with a poem prayer from Hildegard of Bingen (12th C German Mystic):
Giving life to all life,
Moving all creatures,
Root of all things,
Washing them clean,
Wiping out their mistakes,
Healing their wounds,
You are our true life,
Awakening the heart from its ancient sleep.
Meanwhile Peace reflecting on the portals of our community