Be the Gold

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.

Steven said:

I don’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 “faith” in order to be faithful to the message of its founder.

Perplexed,

Steven

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.

Comments

  1. This is it precisely.

    One for pinning on the wall and reading on dark days.

  2. Steven says:

    Kelvin,

    Thanks for taking the time to provide such a detailed and helpful response to my post. I really do appreciate it. Sometimes I think I will have to be a wee bit like the Queen and become Christian [but not Presbyterian] only when in Scotland where I love to attend the SEC in Edinburgh…

    I agree with you that we must respond to the NEED within us to make peace with our world and that it is better to do this [only possible to do this?] in relationship and community with others. I have now abandoned the pretence that I can worship in a community that preaches a soft and gentle form of a hateful and exclusive theology of fear. I had thought that this would have been possible but it began to make me into not a very nice person and when we find we are de-humanising and denigrating those with whom we disagree then we know that it is time to let go…

    Thanks again for your post and I hope to be able to come and worship (again) with you in Glasgow in the not too distant future…

    Any hope of SEC missionaries for Ireland?

    • >Any hope of SEC missionaries for Ireland?

      I think that strictly speaking, Brendan and Columba and so on brought the faith our way…

  3. Steven says:

    PS – I love attending the SEC anywhere in Scotland its just that most of my experience has been in Edinburgh…nothing against Glasgow…obviously.

  4. Steven says:

    I think they also brought the uisce beatha as well!

    So it’s about time the Scots gave something back to the Irish by a second [but Anglican] plantation of Ulster…

    • I just don’t know what the Archbishop of All Ireland would say if I were to announce that we were coming his way. I suspect there might be those around him in Ireland who might not understand.

      In any event, alas, our bishops have declared (perhaps in my view rather prematurely) that assaults on other provinces are not what we are about these days. As the priest of the church which produced Bonnie Prince Charles’s mistress, I’d say that anything north of Derby was fair game.

  5. Rosemary Hannah says:

    I wondered what had happened to the candles. Never mind, it was worth it for the sheer warmth of your singing of the Exultant.

    Yes, there is a reason I travel 22 miles to St Mary’s – there is also a reason why, in other churches, I have been prepared to bully and hoodwink the clergy (when needed) into providing more than just Easter Sunday. In that position, where there is nobody nearby who is trying to provide a proper Tridium, or trying to preach the fullness of the Christian faith, it is incredibly tough for the laity. Leading from the front is very very tough. Leading from a back pew is simply asking for a good kicking. I used to manage it, not leading, or only sometimes, but surviving while speaking up, with the help of friends on line and in different places. Expect the kicking. But sometimes, sometimes, with the grace of God, change begins.

  6. Rosemary Hannah says:

    p.s mangers are lovely – if you feed donkeys and ruminants stinking food they die in moments flat. If you are poor you really really do not want that (not if you are rich actually). So you feed nice clean dry stuff. Does not need to be nutritious but it must be clean and dry. Mangers tend to smell of hay and hay smells like the fresh cut grass it was. It contains the substance used as fixative in all good perfumes. Every good perfume has something of the manger in it.

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