Transforming Encounters

Supposing you could transform mundane moments into spiritual experiences; ordinary events into meaningful encounters? If you practise mindfulness, meditation or prayer, then this may already be your norm. For most of us, it’s a learning, growing process.

From a Christian perspective, this can become our everyday reality, as we learn to “practise the presence of God,” as Brother Lawrence put it.

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July 5th 2015: I came across this in the reading for 5th July in Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning: “[Through Christ] we acquired the potential to participate in the ‘sacrament of the present moment’ – to transform even our most mundane experiences into those of Christ. But we, too, must activate that contact through faith. Strong faith that Jesus can come streaming into our lives and empower us to function, and respond not from our ego-self, but from our Spirit-self”.

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IMG_3117The previous day: July 4th – American Independence Day 2015, and the area around Robertson Street, Hastings, celebrates the events of over 180 years ago when a ramshackle collection of 1000+ residents occupying the area in relative squalor raised the Stars & Stripes flag as a symbol of declared independence from the rest of Hastings. The area henceforth became known as America Ground.

These “‘beggars, gypsies or other undesirables’ that inhabited the city of shacks, huts and tents that many regarded as a blight on the western end of the town” (Hastings Borough Council website) were eventually turfed out by councillors to make way for the Victorian gentry who were beginning to turn Hastings into a popular seaside resort.

Has a familiar kind of ring to it.

That wonderful spirit of individualism, and defiance against being contained and controlled, still characterises elements of Hastings, giving the town a unique kind of beauty and creativity.

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One of the events of Hastings Independence Day on 4th July 2015 was the opening of an alley that’s been cleaned up and renovated as part of a massive refurbishment of the old Hastings Observer building in Claremont (just off Robertson Street) behind which it weaves.

The Alley has been transformed from a neglected, pigeon-poo-infested no-go area into an aesthetic array of art, architecture, caves, cliffs and community, with new market stalls lining the way. IMG_3121 When I saw this place, I was so inspired, so in awe, I had to go home for my camera and come back to take some shots. The photos interspersing this post are those shots.

It probably wasn’t hard for most people to enjoy the buzz of that official opening of the renovated Alley, but in some ways this Saturday afternoon encounter with a renovated piece of Hastings was, for me, transformed further still.

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IMG_3142Community: The event, with its market stalls in The Alley, brought local residents, consumers and traders together into person-to-person contact in a way that’s all too rare. Conversations about the area, shared excitement at the renovation work going on, people even getting to know each other’s names…British people, even!

Creating community.

Despite being the introvert that I am, despite loving time on my own better than anything else, I also love and recognise my need for community. IMG_3133It’s what we were designed for. In community, seeing shared joy between people, seeing links being forged and barriers coming down, I feel God’s heart beating in those connections.

And as I engaged in conversation with a few stall holders myself, my own spirit came alive.

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Creativity: I was awestruck by the stunning street art lining the Alley walls. For me, transformation of the Alley with art is a striking echo of God’s creative expression in nature and his redemptive work in human hearts like mine.

In recent years especially, my encounters with art, music and nature have been at times sublime, spiritual experiences, as was this one. Probably better if I don’t say any more on this but instead let some of the artworks speak for themselves in the photos below…

This piece in particular captured my attention

This piece in particular engaged my heart

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Hidden gems: I’d seen the Alley from Claremont, the street off which it runs, but had no idea it turned the corner behind the buildings, revealing a breath-taking view of man’s architecture melded into cliffs and caves, again symbolising something of the individual character and beauty of Hastings, with its history of smuggling. IMG_3128 Both man-made and God-made structures are home to pigeons roosting and breeding wherever they can. Man and nature brought together, sharing space.

It was a “Wow!” moment. Turning the corner and seeing The Alley for the first time, this hidden gem of Hastings, with a sense of wonder that God seems to be increasingly giving me as I enjoy his world, like a child with newborn eyes. IMG_3116

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(This might have been a good photo if I'd had my tripod with me!)

(This might have been a good photo if I’d had my tripod with me!)

Thank you to Allan’s Army and everyone else involved in the incredible work that’s gone into the transformation of The Alley.

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And thank you, Holy Spirit, for transforming my encounters with community, creative arts and hidden gems into encounters with the personal, creative, awe-inspiring Christ.

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2 thoughts on “Transforming Encounters

  1. Sylvia says:

    Roj, that’s amazing! I must get down there.. Having been born in Hastings it was part of my childhood Saturday afternoon library trips to go past the mysterious and enormous buildings where my Uncle Sam worked, but I’d NO IDEA of the beauty behind. Haven’t been to Hong Kong but the pix give a sense of that.. Thanks for all the inspirations you share – am certainly enjoying mindfulness and reaping rewards! God is so good..

    • Thanks Sylvia, interesting to hear of your childhood memories of the O.B. There’s going to be market stalls there every Saturday from now on, so plenty of opportunity to see first hand!

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