Saturday, June 16, 2007
There was a Greenbelt Management Group meeting last Monday night in London Town – great humans pulling together what I think is the mother of all festivals – Cheltenham Race Course every August Bank Holiday, for many, becomes the thinnest of places, and, (he says, with a hope resembling something the size of a mustard seed), this year will be no different.
There will be some 20,000 people drinking deep, many broken, some fixed (ish), quite a few lost, some found (ish), all searching, most wanting to cut loose and sing, and maybe just a few needing a secret and a quiet place, a place where their pilgrim dream can come alive. Whoever and however and for whatever reason we all gather doesn’t matter; what does matter is that we do make the journey, that we stand, sit, lay on the grass (or mud if the weather is crap) to learn, worship, drink, feast, but most of all, to laugh and cry…together.
And this has got me pondering in the light of the three readings from the First Sunday in Trinity. Imagine, for a moment, a faithful bunch of pilgrims hoping to learn more of the truth about God by attending closely to the liturgy of worship (whether in Parish Eucharist or the GB Arts Festival). I mean, imagine, for instance, we are confronted with three miracle stories. One say, about a bottomless flask of oil, another about a resurrection from the dead, and last, but not least, about a spiritual encounter with God.
Now imagine this merry band consists of people who, by virtue of their background and experience, find it (as, if I am brutally honest with myself from time to time, I do) almost impossible to believe in miracles, so they (dare I say we?) cannot help but view these stories as somewhat discomforting. Imagine then, that they give a quiet intellectual ascent to the possibility that God could do such things, but shy away from examining the stories too closely because of the embarrassing possibility that the stories will turn out to be false in some way, and that their quiet intellectual assumption will turn out to be insufficient to sustain their faith in Scripture, or even in God.
I have always been struck by the same question when it comes to this (and I now use myself, not some imagined gang, as the example): How can I discern the truth about God in texts I hear? The problem is not that my doubt gets in the way – the problem is that my fear of doubt gets in the way; that somehow the church has created an atmosphere in which diligent seeking after the truth is a risky project, one that could undermine one’s faith in God. Better, some say, to stick with hymn writer Newman:
And I hold in veneration,
For the love of Christ alone,
Holy church as his creation,
and her teachings as his own.
God only knows where thinking for ourselves might lead!!
I guess there is here a balance to be struck. I am not advocating unfettered flights of fantasy, nor even thinking madly outside the box. What I am suggesting is that, as a community within a tradition, we have a duty to think humbly but courageously about Scripture. And that thinking cannot begin if we deny before we start, our own deepest sneaking suspicions about God within the text.
To do this is I suppose to assume that our not spoken suspicions are somehow unacceptable (sinful even) – to God and the Church. And to do so is to assume that there is something unacceptable bout us – and whilst there is always room for improvement, to do that is to deny grace, the very heart of the Gospel, the Good News that we are loved and accepted by God just as we are…
…though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without;
Just as we are. ‘God wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve’; that is the bedrock of our faith. It’s only after we have sung these words, with all our heart, soul and mind and strength (all that it can muster anyway), that we can say with integrity, O Lamb of God I come; I come to learn from you in Scripture, to meet you in Communion, to be with you in prayer. The rest as my eccentric mad friend Terrance says is balderdash and piffle.
And in the light of this I was wondering what we might find if we come humbly and honestly to Scripture, despite our doubts and fears, or perhaps even because of them? Let me sneak a quiet assumption of my own: if we must talk in human images, then I say that the God who is powerful enough to do miracles is wise enough to recognise that a generation would arise for whom stories of miracles are hard to believe, a generation who would even think them suspicious, is wise enough to leave something in the texts other than evidence of her power. After all, God’s strength is perfected in weakness.
Miracle stories turn things on their head. Well, actually, quite the opposite. My priest has a lovely image of God in Christ turning everything ‘topsy-turvy’. I like to think that sin has tricked us all into walking around on our hands with our bums in the air and our faces to the ground – and into thinking that is normal and right. Miracle stories are then, designed to set us on our feet again. They are perhaps a special revelation, designed to reassert the fact that all things find their true meaning in God, not in what we call normal.
We think of generosity as unusual and often grudging, and let’s be honest, in this world, that’s pretty normal. But God’s generosity – true generosity, the hallmark, the benchmark, is completely different. Oil never ending and free of charge (George would never go for that!)
I guess the whole point is that whilst at times we need guidance we do actually need to own our faith not borrow someone else’s. To do that we need to talk, read, reflect, pray and talk some more – honestly – with each other. Honest opinions, honestly held, honestly expressed, are the seeds. Sown in the soil of honest listening and honest responding, they bring forth (somewhat miraculously) the fruit of the Spirit….