Steven has left a comment for me under the the post with my Easter sermon in it. I think it is worth replying to it here in a new post.
I donâ€™t get it. The Christian endeavour seems so bound up in bizarre and exclusive metaphysical claims that it is very difficult to grasp hold of the universal, perennial truth of faith, hope and love. Yes, God is Love. But for me the experiences that I have had in Ireland of Christianity have been like panning for gold in a barren land. I sit by the river day by day and I never get a glimpse of the true gold of faith as you have described in your Easter sermon. Where I live I feel it is more faithful to let go of the Christian â€œfaithâ€ in order to be faithful to the message of its founder.
Oh Steven, what a crie de coeur!
I do have some sympathies and I’m not going to be trite and say, “keep looking, you’ll find a place of fellowship somewhere nearby”. Sometimes it is just very hard to find that place, that community, that people and that liturgy which you are looking for.
I will be trite enough to observe that you are the gold though.
When I was thinking about ordination, Holy Week and Easter was a key time in the year when I needed (and I don’t over exaggerate – I needed) to be in a particular kind of church community and keep the festivals with those particularly committed to them. Indeed, for a few years I used to travel hundreds of miles just so that I could experience it. Thus it was that a relatively small number of people taught me how to keep the Feast of Feasts. They were, should you need to know, Bob Gillies, Kevin Pearson and Gillean Craig. Somehow I saw in what they were doing with the people around them in Holy Week, not only a vision of the Paschal kingdom, but also glimpses into what priestly ministry might actually be about when it is working well.
People are occasionally frustrated that I don’t write down very much about how to do Holy Week, yet the truth is, I’ve been trying to build up a community of people who know what it means down to their fingertips and who are not simply reading things off a page. This has its moments of high drama and occasional mild farce, such as when the Bishop murmurs, “Are they going to light their candles now?” and I look forlornly out and murmur back “What candles, Father?” (And yes, forgetting to put out the Vigil candles at the Vigil was no-one’s fault but my own).
Now, what about Steven’s complaint from his riverbank? What am I to say?
Firstly, I think I’d say that if it matters that much then trite or not trite you have to accept that the quest to find what you are looking for it embedded within you and there will be no peace until you find it. You can then read The Wasteland or The Exodus and snort in derision if you must, but keep on searching. Gold is worth looking for.
Secondly, I’d say that though I’m often perplexed or bewildered or frustrated or driven mad by it, the church for me is still a big part of the picture. I’m often confused by those whose faith I appear to share but who say, “Well, I could just worship with the Quakers” or “Experiencing God at the top of a mountain will do for me, the church can go hang.” Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Quaker worship (indeed there may well be a lot that is right about it) and there is nothing wrong with mountaintop experiences of the holy (Jesus and plenty of other biblical characters had them) – but that still doesn’t cut the mustard for me. I believe in the church – sometimes I suspect i believe in the church more than it believes in me, but we’ll let that pass for now. The church is the only really effective longterm vehicle for the liturgy and the liturgy is the cradle of the numinous for me. And that is that. The consequence for me is an intense passion for the liturgy and a an ecclesiology that holds that the church must be good for something after all. Stinking and fetid and smelly as mangers are, they come dusted with gold in the faith I know. It is where the Lord of Life chooses to lay his head.
Thirdly, I’d not underestimate parachurch, virtual reality and church by extension in God’s scheme of things. Were I cut off from a local expression of faith that suited then I’d be joining in with what I could find wherever else I could find it. That might mean blogs, it might mean online liturgy (experimental though it is), it certainly means reading, it might mean contact with a religious order (being an oblate or a tertiary). It would certainly mean, for me, planning ahead so that I can keep the main feasts somewhere. Gold isn’t always found in one’s local riverbank.
Lastly, I guess I might have to think about starting something locally myself. That is not the path for everyone. But it is what gets things done. That’s a fundamental choice to be the gold you are.