Prayer is a two-way process. We are making something of the Mystery of God in our prayer and prayer is making something of the Mystery of God in us. At least, this is what can happen when it is ‘true’ prayer, remembering Ken Leech’s phrase, prayer that is truly open and radical, taking risks, allowing the Mystery we call God to impact us, our preconceptions and prejudices, our emotions and energies.
In the modern West, in Christianity, faith is still primarily about what people believe and how they behave. A person is in a right standing with God when they acknowledge the validity of certain conceptual truths and by living as God wants. The evolution of Christianity from the first to the third centuries and the triumph of Christianity in the fourth century has now become an existential crisis for Christianity. We have endured thirteen centuries of a new kind of religiosity, Nicene orthodoxy. It is at an end, this doctrinaire belief in theological niceties and certainties, the inherited orthodoxy and traditionalism.
My daily faith experience is woven around the always elusive presence in which silence, attention, presence, self-giving, experience, quality, emotions, the unconditional, uncertainty, goodness are ingredients and essences, everywhere. Trusting deeply in what I can’t prove but know is my core, my essence, deep within, touched by, feeling it. The Church faces me with many images of God – homophobic, misogynistic, white bearded, authoritarian, judging, cruel, partisan, rejecting. The disconnect the Church maintains, between an imaginable God for the twenty-first century, and the God of co-dependency, abuse, depression, anxiety, and neurosis, is unsustainable.
We can become too easily (and understandably) trapped in the binary, good and evil, us and them, loving God and punitive God dynamic on which the dualistic faith of conservative traditionalist Christians is founded. It’s New Year Resolution time: and for me it’s renewed decision time. Do I – do we – opt for and choose to construct from our interior conviction and from the Biblical evidence – a God of unconditional love who is entirely and unconditionally for creation and evolution and for us, we the diverse human community living on planet earth?
An article about mindfulness in schools in last Sunday’s Observer raised again a persistent question for me. Why isn’t the teaching of meditation or mindfulness a core part of the Church of England’s teaching programme? Teaching meditation ought to be an integral part of life in every parish. It needs to be taught and it needs to be practised, integrated with prayer and worship.
There is a powerful connection between President Trump’s dangerous, shocking abuse of the Bible to justify his incarceration and abuse of children and families and Mark Wallinger’s monument to the Magna Carta, the founding document of British culture and values that underpins what survives of genuine Christian values in our political realm. Wallinger, in his supposedly secular monument to a potent political document, has created a deliberately spiritual experience of immense truth and authenticity. I want to visit. I am drawn to visit. I anticipate finding there deeper presence and truth than I experience in many official religious buildings in our contemporary culture. Our society urgently needs more places offering unconscious depth, stillness, crafted authenticity and truth.
Fr Bill Kirkpatrick died two weeks ago after a long illness. In his final years of life Bill lost his ability to communicate and relate to the world around him, which itself was a slowly diminishing space. These years were in marked contrast to his ministry of ‘Reaching Out’ lived in Earls Court, a ministry open to the God within who is Father and M other, a ministry to all who happened upon him, universal ministry to everyone because Bill believed our birth right is to love and be loved, regardless of who we are. Bill’s Requiem Mass will be held at St Cuthbert’s Philbeach Gardens SW5 9EB on Monday 29th January at 12 noon.
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.
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.