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 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.
We may think that there is just one version of Christianity that we who are Anglicans share with every denomination and all Christians. Not so - we are living with many versions of Christianity, not just within the variety of denominations, but within each denomination and within the Church of England. Within the church there is an invisible, underground, disconnected, boundary-crossing set of people who are letting go of orthodoxy and dogma. In my dreams this group will reach a critical mass as the reality of the ways in which people are reconfiguring faith becomes more widely known. It’s the great secret of the current decade that dare not speak its name, though it has been emerging for decades.
My faith has been questioned by a number of people as a result of the last two bogs I posted. The number of questioners is small but the range is wide, from gay and radical to conservative, catholic, evangelical and members of General Synod. What they are asking, I think, in different ways, is: What is required for someone to be recognised as a bona fide Anglican or as a Christian? I think some are saying that my faith has been found wanting essential, traditional, orthodox ingredients. I am indeed setting out to question and challenge that so-called ‘authorised version’. I didn’t ask to get myself involved in this drama. It was a calling from that in which I wasn’t sure I believed, thirty years ago, a vocation to change attitudes.
Catherine Keller, has written about theological thinking from a process perspective in On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process, 2008. She proposes “a way for theology to avoid the garish neon light on absolute truth claims, which was out our vital differences.” Two vital differences are being washed out of the Church of England for me. One is my sexuality and the other is my deep contemplative faith. The Church diminishes my faith by treating both as being questionable elements of my core experience. Catherine explores an alternative path of theology which is not a middle ground nor a compromise but something else, something emerging (a theme common in recent theology), something on the way (echoing the ancient image of Christianity being people ‘of the Way’).