It’s a relief to be at home gazing out at field and clouds after two days of intense experience at the General Synod in London. Synod was extraordinary. I think it was a moment of transformation, after which the House of Bishops’ relationship with sexuality and gender will never be the same. At least, I hope that’s the outcome. Members of Synod, some I have known for many years, others I have never met, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, straight, catholic, evangelical, black, white, living with disability, ordained, lay, glorious spectrum of Anglican humankind (so not the full spectrum!) witnessed and testified to their lives and experience of self and experience of God and faith. They were articulate, honest, open, energise, and very, very beautiful. I’ve had a series of powerful experiences in the last 48 hours, and this was one of the most inspiring. It was for many of us the long-awaited moment of transformation, twenty-five years of waiting for me.
Now I’m home with space to continue work on “the book” and time to read and address the introvert, contemplative dimensions of myself which become crowded out in the melee of Synod.
I completed reading the Epilogue of Joseph Chilton Pearce’s book The Biology of Transcendence this afternoon. Pearce has taken me into a realm of spiritual experience that is almost an entirely different world from that of the Church of England’s General Synod – almost rather than entirely because I meet at Synod others whose path has taken them into the realms of transcendence and silence.
Back home, I’m recovering my presence with the divine, and with an encounter with God that is in different universe from the word of General Synod. Some of us can maintain a presence in both worlds. For others, time spent in the world of Church of England bishops, tradition, orthodoxy, theology and practice becomes increasingly difficult. I managed yesterday’s debate because with one exception, it was almost entirely free from dogmatic insanity and filled instead with deeply grounded wisdom and presence, with the God we already know (but the Church doesn’t, when it comes to debate human sexuality).
I return home to a world where, as Pearce’s book reminds me, the word or concept God is not really needed. God simply is a truth, an experience, that slips from me as soon as I begin to write about or try to describe the experience. What happens in silence, in my heart and soul and mind and body can be strong and true, but is very difficult to put into words, and of course, is lost in the moment of silence as soon as my mind starts thinking about it. Despite the difficulty, and somewhat recklessly, I will in coming blogs try and describe what happens and “where I go.”
My living faith doesn’t compute with the world of those who live within the traditional constructs of Christian faith and the organised structures and requirements of church, and never has. Despite that, I seem to have had a vocation to the priesthood which the church tested and accepted. The process was always a mystery to me – they “saw” something I wasn’t aware of. To remain within the fold in the last two decades has required not only that I continue to dissemble about the sexual content of any relationship but that I also dissemble about what I do and don’t believe. The days of freedom from imposed dogma when Bishop John Robinson wrote But that I can’t Believe, fifty years ago, takes me back to a time when it was possible for Robinson to become a bishop and me to be ordained. Chilton’s concept fits easily with Robinson’s and mine with both.
Robinson began his book by quoting from Sydney Carter’s wonderful, angry song Friday Morning. I think it comes from an album: In the present tense.
You can blame it on to Adam,
You can blame it on to Eve,
You can blame it on the devil,
But that I can’t believe.
It’s God they ought to crucify
Instead of you and me,
I said to the carpenter
A-hanging on the tree.
The first commercial recording of the song was held back for blasphemy. John Robinson wrote that “for me it expresses as nearly as anything the kind of faith through doubt from which I believe most of us have got to be prepared to begin again today.”
Now there’s a message for the bishops of today’s Church of England following yesterday’s defeat of their report which Church House was moving heaven and earth to defend and protect all week. But it isn’t just what they are saying about LGBTI people that needs total revision, it’s what they are teaching about God, and their problem with sexuality is of course rooted in their problem with God and scripture – with their theology.
Robinson’s book was a pot boiler, a collection of brief chapters gathered from newspaper articles he had written and various addresses – he suspected that they covered “most of the cardinal points of incredulity.” Would that today’s bishops were able to write in a similar vein? Today they have to be far too worthy, intelligent and grown up. Would that they were able to write “in the present tense” about both God and sexuality. I hope they will now begin to learn.
Joseph Chilton Pearce says our natural state is one of unbroken relationship with our creator, in which everything works together for good, and that the natural instinct of the child is to maintain that state of relationship at all costs. Religion tells us that a semantic proposition or imaginative invention of our verbal brain to be believed in. Chilton counters that God is the force within us expressed as our love of life and passionate will to live. As children we resist with all our will the loss of that original force bubbling up from within us, and this is the will that culture, particularly fundamental Christian cultures, must – and do – break at all costs.
A human nurtured instead of shamed and loved instead of drive by fear develops a different mind and will not act against the well-being of another, nor against his or her larger body, the living earth. As a child we know we are an integral part of the continuum of all things, as Jesus taught and demonstrated. I hope the bishops are going to set out on a path, with all of us, to rediscover that knowing.