James shares his experience of following life's signs
As marketing manager of Norwich Cathedral James Shelton moves on to a new challenge, he reflects on the subject of calling and how we understand it and communicate our experience of it.
By James Shelton
I have been thinking a lot about the subject of calling lately. I am soon to be leaving Norwich, to start a new chapter in my life as a resident member of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Community of St Anselm in London. It’s a big change.
One of my friends from St Stephen’s Church recently asked me if this is something I have felt called to. The short answer is, yes. Over the last year, which has been a time of great spiritual awakening in my life, I have been guided towards this in profound ways. These little ‘God-winks’ have resonated on such an incredibly personal level, that it has felt as if a path of bread crumbs has been created to help me take every step.
To some people this might sound unconvincing. It’s a short sound bite answer, which doesn’t do justice to the scale of the process I have gone through to discern in which direction my life is flowing and what God might be calling me to.
Last year I started walking the Camino de Santiago. In preparation for the second instalment of my pilgrimage this summer, I spent a weekend walking some of the Norfolk Coast Path in June, just a few days after announcing to friends and colleagues that I would be leaving Norwich.
Like the Camino, the Coast Path doesn’t require walkers to carry a map and compass (although in hindsight this is always advisable!) because it guides you with a series of signposted arrows. After arriving in Sheringham on the Friday evening I decided to get my bearings for the next morning, by locating the nearest Coast Path arrow directing the way. I easily found the sign and sent a picture of it to one of my most treasured Camino friends. “Life was simple when all we had to do was follow the arrows”, she responded. This is a sentiment that a couple of my Camino friends have shared since we returned to the reality of daily life. However, my experience of the weekend walking along the Coast Path was anything but simple!
Coastal erosion approaching East Runton took me inland, on what proved to be a merry dance of general confusion as I attempted to determine the right direction in which to travel. Here are some of the things I realised as a result:
1/ Sometimes we anticipate that getting from a to b will be easy, but life is rarely that simple.
2/ Sometimes we do indeed find the way marked with regular signposts, but at other times it can feel like an eternity since the last arrow.
3/ Sometimes we go for so long without a signpost to reassure us, that we start to doubt ourselves and lose faith.
4/ Sometimes it’s at the very last moment, just as we’re losing hope, that the next arrow appears.
5/ Sometimes we miss our signpost altogether because we’re not paying enough attention, and we have to retrace our steps.
6/ Sometimes we reach a place where there are a number of competing arrows pointing in different directions, and it’s not at all clear which is the right way to go.
7/ Sometimes, as we make our way, we are entirely exposed to changing conditions around us. At other times we are protected by covering.
8/ Sometimes we get so confused that we lose our bearings altogether and the only way to get back on track is to ask for help.
It’s amazing to think that, whilst I started out on this walk expecting it to be relatively straightforward, it was in these challenging moments that the richness of the experience came.
Sometimes in life we’re on the straight, at other times we’re turning a corner and occasionally we’re at a major intersection. As I stand at this major intersection in my own life, preparing to cross from an established life here in Norwich to the unknown lying beyond my 10 months at Lambeth Palace, I will remember that the lessons life has taught me can help me to find my way. And I’ll try not to worry too much at those times when I can’t clearly see the path ahead, or when I fail to spot the next signpost directing me or indeed when I need to ask for help, because it’s in those moments that I’ll probably learn the most.
Pictured: James Shelton along the Norfolk Coast Path.