LIBERAL / RADICAL

BISHOP ROBERT ATWELL and I touched on the convergence of the words ‘liberal’ and ‘radical’ in a stimulating conversation the other day. Both of us were speaking of inclusiveness, accessibility, direction, purpose, of a church’s special charism or gift of grace – of getting back to grass roots. And “the Spirit is moving” it seems, because ‘liberal’ and ‘radical’ featured frequently and prominently in our excellent Church Council deliberations about Growth Action Planning here last night. (Where are we? What are we? Why are we? Where are we heading? Where could we be in 5 years? Where do we want to be in 5 years?)

Sandcastles and temples

It doesn’t take much effort to enumerate some of the ways in which church and society are changing before our very eyes, and at a rate of knots. Frenetic building (or perpetual ‘repairing’) of even our strongest sandcastles is – history shows us time and again – sooner or later to be inundated. Baptism. The ocean prevails. The proud are scattered “in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek”. (Magnificat – Luke 1)

Justice and peace

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

George Matheson

It’s no accident that ocean breeze and flow keeps blowing the words ‘justice’ and ‘peace’ back into the faces of a Church comprised of many who lived through the human turmoil of the twentieth century – during which more human beings killed members of their own species than at any other point in history. We simply MUST aspire to richer, fuller, brighter, fairer, tearless promise. And our Growth Action Planning last night had the current atrocities in Syria as a backdrop to concentrate the mind, whilst one of our Council reps teaches in a school in which over 35 languages are spoken amongst the small children.

Open plan … and the old glass ceilings

Oceans level sandcastles and temples and leave beaches washed clean. And golden. An invitation. Like fresh snow the shoreline swept clean invites new footprints. “And we therefore will not fear, though the earth be moved and the hills be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46). And we ask the question, “so where are we headed now?” Levelled, shaken up a bit and cleaned, both the ocean and the land are still here. Shall we build the same old castles or shall we have a rethink? Shall we go for a bit more “open plan”? Shall we leave out the old glass ceilings? Shall we thank God that all the Synodical and Parliamentary minutes about the difference between men and women, and straight and gay, and the world’s faith traditions, and political ideologies, and representation rules – got washed out to sea, whilst the ocean and the land and the better memories – one might almost say the “divine memories” – are still here.

Parables

Once again there’s a fabulous little parable in this week’s UK Church Times. The visionary and prophetic Bishop Kelvin Wright of Dunedin, New Zealand, is reported as saying

my diocese faces extinction … but I’m not losing any sleep over this. I think several other dioceses will be watching what we do with interest

We are. And thankfully Kelvin will be as familiar as I am with an older parable

unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. – John 12.24

What will it mean for the Church – “the Body of Christ now on earth” – and for the World of the future to be both liberal and radical? Bring on the ocean – an inundation worth learning to swim in, and that right early.

Jerusalem the golden with milk and honey blest beneath thy contemplation sink heart and voice oppressed. I know not, O, I know not what joys await us there, what radiancy of glory, what bliss beyond compare

IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LIGHT

THANKS BE TO GOD! Forty-seven blessed souls (54 including those who emailed me, or telephoned to say that they’d be present in their own homes) gathered for our Guided Monthly Meditation this evening. Can’t wait already for the next on the 26th September … but, as I said in the brief introduction tonight, none of us need wait until then: each of us can practice what we shared tonight, wherever we are, in our own company, and in spiritual companionship with millions and millions of other meditating people; a huge global network, gathered in peace, every day, in the presence of the Light. I do.

The World Community for Christian Meditation

The Anglican Bishop of Dunedin, Dr Kelvin Wright, is currently
keeping a prayer diary called Be Quiet for a Change:
see especially There’s Silence and There’s Silence

Centering Prayer & Inner Awakening
by the Reverend Cynthia Bourgeault offers help and inspiration

Brother David Steindl-Rast OSB reflects
A Good Day

Meditation Monday | Meditation Lift-Off

WHERE STREAMS OF LIVING WATER FLOW

WHERE STREAMS of living water flow, my ransomed soul he leadeth, and where the verdant pastures grow, with food celestial feedeth. (from Psalm 23)

The circumstances in which our ears are attuned to “living water flowing” often have a retreat quality about them. It’s as though the sound of flowing water invites us – quietly though, this invitation isn’t ordinarily shouted – to stillness, like that of the crop that’s only going to flourish if it’s irrigated. Our soul’s best health and liberty (freedom to live healthily and wholly, and move, and have our being) depends upon our willingness to be shepherded gently into verdant pastures. Without some quiet in our lives, without some stillness, without the sound and feel and taste and touch of living water we do not flourish.

Bishop Kelvin Wright’s second blog, recently up and running, is worth a read: it’s called Be Quiet for a Change

TELEPHONES FOR ONE THING …

Bede Griffiths (17 December 1906 – 13 May 1993), born Alan Richard Griffiths and also known as Swami Dayananda (Bliss of Compassion), was a British-born Benedictine monk who lived in ashrams in South India.

I READ FR BEDE GRIFFITHS’ A New Vision of Reality way back in 1989 when it was published. Formerly a Benedictine monk at Prinknash Abbey, Fr Bede, the book’s dustjacket informs, left England in 1955 to travel to India to assist in the foundation of Kurisumala Ashram, a monastery of the Syrian rite in Kerala. In 1968 he moved to Saccidananda Ashram in Tamil Nadu by the sacred river Cauvery. This Ashram (founded in 1950) was a pioneer attempt to found a Christian community in India which would incorporate the customs of a Hindu ashram and the traditional forms of Indian life and thought. It seeks to become a centre where people of different religious traditions can meet together in an atmosphere of prayer and grow together towards that unity in Truth which is the goal of all religions.

I’m a devotee of Brother David Steindl-Rast whose website Gratefulness pointed me to the old VHS tape footage of Fr Bede (above) which is simply priceless …

You see, for me, coming to America from India – the complexity of life! All these telephones for one thing, you know, and cars and tv and so on. It’s very wonderful in its way but [in India] in the simplicity, you seem to get an integrity, your whole life becomes more whole … if people can learn to simplify their lives, you know, at least in part – some sphere of simplicity where you can let go and be simple in the presence of God …

Bede Griffiths never lost his grip of the most fundamental requirement for a child of God: living in the presence of God. His / her entire life story arises therefrom. But we human beings are forgetful as Bishop Kelvin Wright of Dunedin (another prophet possessed of “a new vision of reality” in our own day) wrote a day or two ago …

These empty worship shells scattered around the countryside are the signs of the death of a particular religious infrastructure. I look at them with such fascination, I think, because they represent a process which is still continuing. A particular way of meeting the spiritual needs of our society is disappearing because it no longer meets the needs of our society, and still we are preoccupied with preserving it: keeping our buildings open and making sure our functionaries are paid and making sure the committee structures which kept the whole system turning over are filled with the fewer and older and wearier people who still give us allegiance. I think we have missed – are missing – the point.

The role of the church is to introduce people to the Living God and open them to the transforming power of the presence of God. Gradually we have forgotten to do this. We have forgotten how to do this. We have forgotten, even, that we are supposed to do this. And quite naturally, and quite rightly, the infrastructure we have created precisely to help us to do this crumbles and dies.

The old churches tell me one thing and they tell it to me clearly and loudly: The church must facilitate personal transformation or it must cease to exist. It is time to forget the infrastructure except to the extent that it facilitates the one essential task of the Church. As my Lord tells me, “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all the rest will be added to you as well.”

Personal transformation before ecclesiastical transformation,  that’s the secret. Jesus changed individual hearts before he changed church. Personal transformation begets ecclesiastical transformation, and thereafter societal transformation. Bede Griffiths, Roger of Taizé, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Kelvin Wright … might all have worn the name badge Swami Dayananda (Bliss of Compassion). And that’s where personal transformation begins: in compassion, first for oneself, and then for all other created persons and things, and that (Christ-like) compassion leads to “some sphere of simplicity” where we can “let go and be simple in the presence of God.”

In other words, we re-member. How lovely that an old VHS tape (oh, the simplicity of such things!) should bring Fr Bede to hearts and minds in 2011. How glad he might be to read Kelvin’s Available Light, even from the perspective of his now living entirely within it. Brother David, I’m grateful.