Today I return to two themes which are fundamental to my vision. The first is the centrality of the contemplative/apophatic tradition and the second is the how question – how does transformation take place in the Church of England (or perhaps better put in the negative – why has the church lost the gift of radical transformation?). In three Church Times articles, the authors offer an interpretation of past events and current times, seeing the potential for a transformation of Christian life and witness. Each of them gets so far, but fails to communicate how this might become a reality in practical terms. Very few have the conviction necessary to turn such ideas into reality. Voices crying in the wilderness and grain falling on stony ground are the images that come to mind.
My musings raise fundamental questions about the nature of faith and spirituality and the core of being human, about the quality and purpose of buildings, and the effect we have on people when they walk through our church doors, both the effect of the building environment and the effect of the worship and prayer culture.
All buildings have the potential either to enhance or diminish the way we experience God, the holy, sacred, divine, numinous, unconditional, infinite, intimate, ever-present other.
The Church of England, despite the positive, optimistic changes that bring hope, is still deeply, systemically homophobic, and changing this culture requires us to be honest and identify repeatedly what homophobia looks like and how it manifests and affects people in the church. We need to be really focused on this because often WE can’t see it for what it is. And if we can’t see it, those holding positions of authority and power in the church have the very greatest difficulty in seeing it.
The Church of England is failing to provide an appropriate and professional service to lay and ordained lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. Those alert to inappropriate systemic practice will be able to identity multiple examples of “processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and homophobic stereotyping which disadvantage LGBTI people.” It is routine because those in senior positions are compromised in their understanding by the culture they inhabit and by the theology, teaching and practice which is normative in the Church of England.
It’s time to write as honestly and openly as I can about my prayer life as I promised in a recent blog. In the blog I mentioned that I have ideas about how to begin worship in ways that can take people into their bodies, help them ground themselves and connect with their feelings. The ability to become more aware of our bodies, to be grounded and connected with our feelings is for me equally essential when it comes to my personal prayer life. Nurturing interior body awareness has helped me to deepen my confidence that I really am created in the image of God and that God dwells in the core of my being as much as I dwell in the beauty of God’s creation.
My suspicion is that talk about the uncertainty of the God experience is more difficult for Christians and within Christian communities now than it was four and five decades ago. How do I come into the presence of God? My question is not well framed. The better question is: How do I become aware of or conscious of God’s always present presence? The presence of the holy, the divine, the infinite, unconditional, utterly loving other is often elusive. It takes me time and the setting aside of deliberate intent to find myself in the presence. And that’s how it happens – finding myself there. I don’t make it happen – can’t make it happen.
My view of what is so dramatically wrong with the Church of England is that it fears teaching people about God, the God of whom Eckhart wrote: “God created all things in such a way that they are not outside himself, as ignorant people falsely imagine. Everything that God creates or does he does or creates in himself, sees or knows in himself, loves in himself.” Mutual Flourishing, Shared Conversations, and Five Guiding Principles are attempts to maintain fundamental, endemic, systemic, un-Godly, un-holy theology and discrimination. Mutual flourishing is a great quality, but a tertiary quality compared with the quality of the divine, holy, ‘isness’ of God, that of God, infinite and unconditional, awe-full and awe inspiring, love pouring out and love immersing, in all of creation and evolution. What I think is really, fundamentally and dramatically wrong about the Church of England is that it’s just not getting God.
I was 24 when Peter Berger published A Rumour of Angels. I think my High Church Anglican religious world was a supernatural world in which God ‘lived’ somewhere other than earth and could be communicated with through prayer and affected emotionally through worship. God could be apologised to in confession and seduced into liking us through sensuous liturgy. I live in a different domain now, the domain of sacred, holy, real presence in the here and now, a domain which has the powerful effect of taking me beyond my mundane, prosaic self and away from a conditionally-loving, judgemental God of heaven and hell, into another realm which is as real both here and now in the present moment and in the infinite elsewhere, in glory and beauty and the infusion of love.
People are identifying recent events as signifying the moment when the Church of England’s version of Christianity is being forced to face up to the expectation from within and outside the church that it must become a genuinely inclusive organisation modelling radical equality in gender and relationships in the context of ministry, practice and teaching. Some predict that a tipping point has been reached. What are the significant events that suggest this might be so?
The outcome of the debate at Synod last week on the Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations report was positive from my point of view. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech at the end of the debate communicated that he knew change had to happen and his awareness was communicated in the statement issued soon after. Subsequently several bishops made statements or issued letters indicating that they also understood the need to think and do things differently. Did the culture and understanding of the bishops and archbishops undergo a sudden conversion? I doubt it.