reflecting on faith


Lord, Your peace and my peace are very different things, help me not get confused by the word. My peace comes at the end of a busy day when I am exhausted and drained, when I can “relax”, when I can watch mindless stuff on television in an attempt to get my mind to slow down. Your peace comes at the start of the day when the world is fresh and I can face all my little worries with calm and let you enter my mind. When I can share with you my challenges and failures and don’t feel bad about them, but energised by your peace to face them and repent. You bring me such peace, a calm which fuels me to do better, a sense of spiritual place where it feels right to be. Thank you Lord for your peace. Amen

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I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me. C. S. Lewis

Leading the first Compline of Advent this evening, I wondered how to share this quiet awe and sense of gratefulness I was feeling.

Using Steve Brady’s BRF Advent book for the meditation, the early themes based on Genesis seemed too powerful for the message I was trying to express. In the end I used his reflection on the Garden of Eden , which cited the well-known verse “one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth”. He goes on to reflect that we are nearer God’s heart when we are close with other people, in God’s own image, despite their diverse ways of challenging and saddening us.

This makes sense to me. Spending much of my time writing, reading and teaching in the rarified atmosphere of study and the mind, I am brought crashing into humanity by my weaknesses and ineptitude in matters practical. I see others faultlessly manage what frustrates me and feel their kindness and connection as an understanding of God’s love – for them and for me.

Really helpful annotated list of resources on these debates, passed on by a fellow Reader – thank you Robin.
The author of the list is Rev Stuart Cashman, Associate Minister, Duke Street Church, Richmond, Surrey

Selected Science and Faith Resources:

*Collins, C. John, Science & Faith: Friends or Foes, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003).

This is an excellent overview of the whole debate. It is clearly written and covers all the major questions. Collins is an engineer turned biblical scholar and the book was originally written to help parents who were home-schooling their children figure out what do with the dinosaurs.

Davidson, G.R. When Science and Faith Collide: A Biblical Approach To Evaluating Evolution and the Age of the Earth, (Oxford, MSL Malius Press, 2009).

A geologist looks at how the Bible and science can be reconciled. He covers a lot of ground quite briefly (e.g. Flood, age of the earth, evolution etc). It makes quite a good introduction to the whole area, but is not as comprehensive as Collins’ book.

*Keller, Timothy, The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, (Hodder & Stoughton, 2009).

One chapter deals briefly with the science and faith ‘conflict.’ Keller deals expertly with many other apologetics issues, so this is an excellent book to have, and to give away.

*John C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford, UK: Lion Hudson, 2009).

Lennox is an Oxford Mathematician who has debated Dawkins a number of times. This book is well written but quite dense. Lennox shows that the clash between science and faith is really a clash of worldviews, and he argues from the history and philosophy of science to show the weaknesses in the atheistic position. He also produces arguments against evolution by asking how information could spontaneously arise in a purely naturalistic universe. A unique and very helpful book, which I highly recommend.

McGrath, Alister, Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2005).

This is a very thorough critique of Dawkins work by a man who holds PhD.’s in biochemistry and historical theology. It predates The God Delusion and is fairly technical but well written. It focuses exclusively on Dawkins and therefore is not so broadly applicable as some of the other books.

with Joanna Collicutt McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2007). A shorter book focusing on The God Delusion.

Robertson, David, The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths, (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus, 2007). A non‐scientist takes on atheism using critical thinking rather than a pile of scientific facts. This is very short and helpful in dealing with the issues of the New Atheism generally. The first of the “letters” actually made it onto Dawkins’ website.

Strobel, Lee, The Case for a Creator, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004). This book covers a lot of ground and is very supportive of Intelligent Design. Strobel is an exjournalist who interviewed a whole load of leaders in their fields about the evidence for a creator. The interview format is helpful for some and irritating for others. This is a less philosophical and more “sciencey” book.

There are also many good resources at http://www.bethinking.org

* Highly recommended

Wow, two huge topics and only a few remarks here. In a discussion on the difference between these two headings this week, the conclusion was drawn that studying ecumenism tended to refer to Christian churches attempting to work together and resolve doctrinal difficulties as well as divergence of traditions in liturgy, worship, rituals, and that inter-faith dialogue is the term used more commonly for a variety of faiths looking at similar things, including but not exclusively Christian.

One Church. How to get there? So many have tried. Scripture points us towards a oneness, God’s love for all. Meanwhile, we have the freedom to diverge and to keep getting things wrong.

Charles Handy, in An Empty Raincoat (1999), seemed to suggest a way:

“It is tempting to call for better leadership, but we probably expect too much from the leaders of the nations. Those nations are too big, the connections not strong enough, the commitment to the future not long enough. It is better to look smaller, to our now-smaller organisations, to local communities and cities, to families and clusters of friends, to small networks of portfolio people with time to give to something bigger than themselves. We have to fashion our own directions in our own places.” (Charles Handy, b.1932, Irish author and philosopher on work and society. The quote is from his 1994 book The Empty Raincoat)

The author of this hymn is Bishop William Walsham How. Bishop How was known as the “omnibus bishop”, a reference to his preferred method of travel around his diocese in the East End of London where he worked among the miserable social conditions of the nineteenth century slums.

He is also a well-loved hymnist. This particular hymn comes from his Children’s Hymns of 1872.  It was later included in the English Hymnal under the “At Catechism” section, but clearly there is something about how the hymn offers theological meaning through childish words, which has earned it a place in the grown-up repertoire too.

 

What is it then, about the story and the way it is told in this hymn which expresses my own understanding of the meaning of the Crucifixion.

How strange that the very verses which I find so powerful, are the ones cut out in the New English Hymnal. Especially verse 4. As a child and as a woman I still try to think about the cross and see him there and try to imagine the pain in a human way, and then as Bishop How says, “I could but see a little part”. The great love, like a fire, in Jesus’s heart for the whole world but even for me responds to the flame I try to keep kindled in my own heart along the way. For me the Crucifixion story, cluttered about sometimes with images from films and plays and sermons, is made simple and unimaginably redeeming by the childish words of this hymn.

1 It is a thing most wonderful,
Almost too wonderful to be,
That God’s own Son should come from Heav’n,
And die to save a child like me.

2 And yet I know that it is true;
He chose a poor and humble lot,
And wept, and toiled, and mourned, and died,
For love of those who loved Him not.

3 I cannot tell how He could love
A child so weak and full of sin;
His love must be most wonderful,
If He could die my love to win.

4 I sometimes think about the cross,
And shut my eyes, and try to see
The cruel nails and crown of thorns,
And Jesus crucified for me.

5 But even could I see Him die,
I could but see a little part
Of that great love, which, like a fire,
Is always burning in His heart.

6 It is most wonderful to know
His love for me so free and sure;
But ’tis more wonderful to see
My love for Him so faint and poor.

7 And yet I want to love Thee, Lord;
Oh, light the flame within my heart,
And I will love Thee more and more,
Until I see Thee as Thou art.

Lately I have been trying to work out the distinction between spirituality and emotional experience. Maybe I don’t need to and maybe there is little difference, but I think there should be. When we talk of emotions we envisage sensory

feelings – tears, joy, depression, excitement, outrage and so many more expressions of emotional experience. But they seem to be linked to what we feel and those feelings have both internal or mental, and physical expression in body language and sensation.

When we talk of spirituality, there is something else going on.  Emotions are definitely involved, but there is more. A secular definition will touch on who we are and how we relate to the rest of the universe. What is our place? What is life about? And here we start to respond with reason and science. If we speak of spirituality in relation to religion or faith, then we sense a deep connection with ourselves and with our God. And that connection relates to the spirit, in a Christian religious sense, this must be the Holy Spirit.

Teresa of Avila, a famous Carmelite nun and Spanish mystic in the sixteenth century, spoke of four stages of the ascent of the soul: mental prayer, the prayer of quiet, the devotion of union and the devotion of ecstasy. These are strange words to relate to the twenty-first century but they help me to see a difference between the sensory states of emotion and the meditative states of spirituality.

I have been starting to follow St Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises  and in the meditations which are guided, the intense focus on passages from Scripture very easily move to an altered state. A sense that all is left behind except the flow of ideas which come from the passage – a mental but deep connection with the ideas within scripture. A feeling of flying towards new insight. But this is still largely mental focus, perhaps relating simply to what St Teresa of Avila refers to as mental prayer.l

Beyond that the sense of peace which seems to pervade the whole being after such a meditation is marked. Something beyond the physical reality of sitting down to read and pray.

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