I am woken on Monday to Friday mornings when my bedside radio tunes in to the Today programme on Radio 4. As I drifted in and out of consciousness this morning, I heard an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury after the 7am news being trailed. I was fully awake when David Bowie’s death was announced in the middle of the bulletin. I immediately felt sad and bereft, a sense of loss of a public figure whose identity had always been elusive. The interview with the ABC was bumped to make room for a tribute to Bowie. Given that the Archbishop is about to begin a very difficult day and week, I thought he handled the interview well, sounding calm and coherent, and not giving much away.
I am nearly two years older than David Bowie. We were born 10 miles apart in South London, he in Brixton, me in Wimbledon Park. I never bought his albums, but his music, his images, his identity and presence, creativity and reinvention, mystique and gender fluidity and sexual ambivalence, impacted on my awareness. His music haunts me.
He seemed to have great integrity and deep confidence in himself and his inner world. He was able to shape-shift and reinvent himself, redefine himself, in a world where so much was and is calculated, adulterated, corrupted by fame and fantasy.
The website and blog, ‘Unadulterated Love’, is primarily intended to explore contemplative Christian spirituality and the spiritual creativity, mystique, fluidity and ambivalence that I experience in my faith, my life as a Christian and a priest, my praying, and my involvement with God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. (Though the blogs that have gained most attention are the three dealing with sexuality.)
I am living into the Primates’ meeting in Canterbury, which begins today, from my primary vocation as a Christian activist who believes my spiritual dimension in life is at the core, the heart of who I am as a person, alive on Monday 11 January 2016.
In an echo of David Bowie, but not on the scale of his life, my identity and spiritual shape have shifted through 70 years of living. I am in essence the same person I was at birth or conception, and at the same time I have evolved in multiple ways and am not the same person at all.
When I reflect on myself, my spirituality, my contemplative presence with the holy, my sexuality, and my life journey, I see it characterised by unpredictability and otherness, with an elusive but profoundly essential core running through – an evolving faith and belief in the presence of God who is both infinitely other and intimately, utterly, unconditionally loving and tender and grace-filled.
My insecure, anxious self is always lurking somewhere, but is far less present now than in my 20s, 30s and 40s. My anxious self worries about the outcome of the Primates’ meeting and what the implications might be on many fronts if, as they’ve threatened, some of the Gafcon Primates walk out. How might this affect my relationship with the Church of England? How might it affect the C of E’s relationship with LGBTI people and our proper expectation that we will receive equal status as Christians?
My contemplative self puzzles over the behaviour of these Primates who threaten to walk out and imagine themselves pulling the plug on the Anglican Communion.
I puzzle over the construct of their faith. I know we read the same Bible, have been called into faith by the same God, worship the same Lord Jesus Christ, are inspired and infused by the same Holy Spirit. God is one and God is infinite and unconditional and Lord of all creation or God is nothing.
In the world of Colin, it’s crazy that in the twenty-first century, my sexuality which is core to my being created in the image of God, and of the essence in my spiritual path towards deep prayer and truth, is seen by those with a conservative pattern of faith as something so sinful that the Church must be ruptured. It doesn’t compute, and no amount of language about graceful disagreement can paper over the seismic cracks that my sexuality is said to cause. It’s madness.
And when I settle to sit for 25 minutes in the contemplative presence of God, who gazes at me with unadulterated love, my guts and heart and soul and mind and body are tenderly affirmed by love. My anxious self melts as “the presence” infuses me. Energy flows in affirmation of my open heart and my gift of presence, though the gift, of course, is always present and always at work in every human life, though we are too often unconscious and unaware.
The gulf between me and my faith and the Primates and their faith looks to me like a gulf of almost unbridgeable difference in our awareness of and experience of the utterly holy and utterly elusive, utterly present God. The God of grace and love infuses and melts me. The God experienced by the Gafcon leaders seems to be primarily demanding, judgmental, angry about sin and sex, abusive, prejudiced – and to be honest, not very truthfully or accurately known by these leaders. I suppose that’s not true, but when I think about the encounters and conversations I’ve had with some conservatives, I wonder.
There’s a point to this blog, beyond what I’ve already written. For those like me (and I mean spiritually rather than in terms of sexuality or gender) there may well be anxiety and even fear about this week’s meeting. The threat of angry walkouts is psychically and emotionally distressing. My heart’s equilibrium is disturbed.
The only place for me to go in response to the distress is to the silence, the stillness, the heart centre, the soul, the self grounded and rooted in love. There, evolving over a lifetime, I discover and experience and am tenderly held and transformed by the presence of infinite love.
It is, of course, this same, infinite, unconditional love that dwelt in David Bowie and contributed to his creative genius, a genius that touched, emotionally, the hearts of millions.
Each one of us can touch the inspirational core of our being, given time and space and loving care. Today, I look to those Primates able to bring that Christ-like presence to their meeting in Canterbury to inspire their brothers to stay in the room and hold fast to their calling to bring the same presence to the Church and to the world.