All spiritual disciplines have one purpose: to get rid of illusions so we can be present. Richard Rohr
I could not resist sharing this quote, as it pretty much articulates my own understanding of spiritual practices (disciplines) to be. They enable us to rid ourselves of unhelpful layers and to be present to God, to ourselves and to others. The place of loving encounter and transformation. I have been delighted to see parishioners and those who have been sent to St Paul’s have seen different measures of healing as they find acceptance and love from God and are able to discard unhelpful patterns.
For the first time in a very long time, probably because of these days, I found myself looking through the magazine rack in the local drugstore and flicked through some ‘Mindfulness’ magazines. One of these had an article surveying the leading forms of mindfulness-style practices and what was noticeable was the absence of anything remotely approaching the Christian tradition. It was as if the church had left the stage….we just simply were not known as having anything to contribute.
Perhaps it is because when many of us grew up churches tended to model head knowledge rather than anything else (remember the Catechism?). The Christian life was more about acquiring a set of beliefs and conforming to a set of behaviours allegedly based on them (I will critique that another time!). The rigidity of this framework has buckled under the weight of what life brings, together with good and bad life choices, and the Christian faith and the church, has been found lacking for too many. So now we have generations of people with little or no experience of church or Christianity; or worse, they have been damaged by it.
Now within the wider church, including the Anglican stream, there has been a rediscovery of the riches of the various Christian traditions, including the sacramental, the indigenous, the charismatic, new ways of reading scripture and so on. How are we to ‘proclaim the gospel afresh to every generation’? How do we leave a legacy of having handed the faith on to succeeding generations?
I wonder if you have ever thought of faith sharing /EVANGELISM as part of our Christian practices as baptised believers? This does not mean pushing tracts or preaching at street corners. It is simply living our lives in such a way that they are distinctive (which I believe is a product of following the spiritual practices) and authentic – the cry from younger generations can be paraphrased as ‘don’t tell me what you believe, show me by how you live your life’. For most of us, it is the ability to give a gracious answer, if asked about ‘the hope that is within you’ (I Peter 3:15) that is needed and doing what many of you do already, encouraging people to connect with a local church, which is wonderful.
I have been thinking about these things recently because Ascension Day is this Thursday and the period between Ascension and Pentecost is traditionally when the church prays that others may come to faith in Christ. The Roman Catholic Church has had a practice for about one hundred years of praying to Mary the Mother of Jesus, who accompanied the Apostles in that period, to help in this task. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, for the sixth year, is inviting churches, families and individuals use this period for focussed prayer and reflection, under the title ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. What began as a Church of England initiative has become a global ecumenical endeavour – successfully bringing together almost all the main Christian denominations.
In these days of COVID-19 and physical separation, the disciples gathered in the upper room praying expectantly for the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ Ascension may have a resonance (although they would not have been practicing physical distancing!). For the disciples it was a scary, confusing and disorientating time – in the midst of it all Jesus kept appearing and saying ‘Peace’ but they still were very attached to the upper room! Then Pentecost came and all changed…..but I digress.
The groaning in our souls is for things to be made right – to be put into the right order so that everything and everyone can flourish. Don’t we long for there to be no more pain or crying, no more injustice or loneliness? If we believe that God created the world in love; then we understand that we were created with relationship in mind – with God, each other and the earth. Don’t we want those we care about to discover some of that?
We live in a very ‘young’ area – the proportion of residents aged 65 and over is around 15%; which is the same % as the under 16s. It is young adults who are under 40 that make up half our population. One of the unintended consequences of the shutting of our buildings has been we are now on the same channels of communication as those young people e.g. YouTube and Instagram. It is not easy and it is not comfortable to make these adjustments but, as Anglicans, we understand ourselves to gather for worship, study and fellowship in order that we are nourished to be sent into the world to love and serve. Let us pray with these generations on our hearts and minds.
I hope that some of you will be inspired to join with me in praying for a renewed desire for the Kingdom of God and that St Paul’s, as a faith community, adapts to the challenges we face. Like the early disciples, may the fruit of our prayers and our lives be (a new) Pentecost! Amen!
Almighty God, your ascended Son has sent us into the world to preach the good news of your kingdom: inspire us with your Spirit and fill our hearts with the fire of your love, that all who hear your Word may be drawn to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.