To live into life in all its fullness, we human beings have to let ourselves go ‘into something’ more than where are at the moment. We cannot move on without letting go.
What will we be moving into? Into the next moment, for a start – the future moment, the new year, and a future which is always and inevitably a future of uncertain, unknown, mostly unpredictable events. We make New Year Resolutions in the hope that we might assert some control over the events of this new year.
New Year Resolutions also express some hope that we will move in some way more deeply into ourselves, if we can – the person we would like to be in our idealised hopes and dreams – knowing that at the moment we are not quite who we dream of being and hoping to be, in 2018, more fully the person we could be.
The ‘something more’ that we hope to live into might also be a living into relationships, more deeply with our wife, husband, partner, lover, or closest friends, and perhaps more deeply into relationship with people beyond our current network of family and friends, into new social networks and possibly into the world of a new lover or partner.
We might dream of letting ourselves go into new spiritual awareness and experience, however we might categorise our spirituality; into the realms of silence and reflection, contemplation and meditation, self-reflection and emotional openness, into energy, breath, life, expansiveness, flow, enrichment, confidence, creativity, excitement.
Related to this, we might dream of letting ourselves delve more deeply within, into our inner life, our unconscious or subconscious realms, into the world of therapy and counselling.
To let go, and let ourselves go into something beyond our present experience, we have to find the courage to let go and the confidence that there is something there worth letting our self go into.
When I was younger, much younger, I had friends who asked me why I took risks, did things without checking the implications in advance (risks that I suspect I moaned and complained about subsequently). Because, I told them, if I see a door, and I can’t see and don’t know what is on the other side of the door, and I’m curious about what might be there, I’m not going to find out unless I open the door and metaphorically walk through into whatever might lie beyond. Looking at the beyond from the threshold of the doorway won’t suffice – I will observe the unknown from there but will not begin to directly experience it.
Faith and awareness of the sacred are one of the more ultimate unknowns that occupy my time and attention. Prayer, meditation, contemplation, our encounter with the holy, the sacred, the divine presence, will remain on the surface, observed, superficial experiences, unless we allow ourselves to take the risk of going through the doorway into the space beyond, into the unknown – and do it repeatedly, because there will always be a new door beckoning, a new unknown to take the risk of exploring. The life of living by faith is composed of a slowly evolving sequence of such experiences.
Our lives will remain potentially unfulfilled, depressing, superficial, unless we allow ourselves to take some risks and go through some new, surprising doors, uncertain of what we might find and how we will be on the other side.
This is not something to do blindly or recklessly, in any category, spiritual or relational. We will have some intuition, some sense of what we might find or hope to find the other side of the metaphorical door. There will be clues, if we pause and pay attention to our inner musings. Our prime difficulty lies in taking the risk, turning the handle, easing the door open and stepping forward into the unknown, which may be far less an unknown quantity than we imagine.
My problem with Christianity and the church institution is that it has become more and more risk averse. It offers what for me has become a depressingly familiar, somewhat static, routine menu of teaching and practice, worship and liturgy, and national strategy.
Jesus took risks and repeatedly stepped through doors into new encounters and new experiences. He did this all the time, taking risks, some of which we might think were highly ill-advised. A healthy, Christ-like, adventurous, creative, energised, inspirational church would be opening metaphorical doors and windows onto new life experiences all the time, in the context of life grounded in the present, in reality, and in a communal experience of what makes for healthy, loving, nourishing, nurturing, non-abusive, non-manipulative relationships.
Church congregations need to provide basic safety, warmth, nurture, love, affirmation, freedom from abuse of any kind, sexual, emotional, and theological, freedom from prejudice against women, men, children, the elderly, LGBTIQ people, the single, partnered, cohabiting, married, black, white, able-bodied, disabled, people of other races and nationalities and other faiths, and Christians from other denominations and tribal identities.
All these values are basic and primary and the Church of England is unable to provide them. These values reside below the ideals of an inclusive or LGBTI-welcoming church. They are the foundations on which such churches can be built. Congregations need to become conscious of and think through the requirement to provide a safe environment, free from prejudice, in which people can find the freedom to explore and the courage to walk through the doors of their life and adventure into the creative beyond.
The church as an institution also needs to model these primary values. It doesn’t. It has been locked for at least three decades in tribal wars about gender and sexuality and is alarmingly unconscious of the limited, prejudiced mind-set within which it functions.
It may be that the Christian church is in a period of terminal decline. It may be that this will ultimately be true of the other global faith communities rooted in dogma and doctrine.
The people I know who have an openness of mind and heart and an awareness of life as something we have, HAVE to let ourselves go into by opening doors, taking risks and exploring new landscapes I meet mostly outside the church. Many of them have been pushed out of the church or have themselves chosen to leave, feeling deeply frustrated and sometimes abused, finding outside the institutional church the qualities of life in all its fullness and paths of deep spirituality. That’s where I have increasingly found life in all its fullness.
Here I stand knocking at the door; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in, and they and I will eat together (Rev. 3.20 REB).
That’s the story from Jesus’ side of the door. In Holman Hunt’s painting, the door has no handle. It is our responsibility to turn the handle from our side, open the door, and allow Jesus to step through into our world. I realise that everything I have written reverses this dynamic. We are not hearing the knocking. We may not even see the doors presenting themselves to us in life. I think we each have to find our personal vision, to see the door, grasp the handle, and step through into the beyond, where, if my intuition is right, we will find some more of the ingredients that contribute creatively to the fullness of life of which Jesus spoke in John 10.10.