Sunday, 26 October 2008

Small beginnings

With so many people distanced from any form of organized religion yet still searching and spiritually aware, any approach towards God needs to be accompanied by a search for whatever God may already be doing in people’s lives.
This can be a rewarding start-point for any of us, wherever we may be on our journey, but for a person who is setting out on the spiritual path for the first time, or who is only giving a first thought to the possibility, this may bear particular fruit through the blessings received as a result of that inner search. To examine one’s life looking for previously unnoticed touches or influences of God is to acknowledge not only His existence but His presence in the world and in one’s own life. That acknowledgement, however unintentional, is an expression of a desire that may have been buried for years, and is the beginning of a communication that has the power to transform our lives. For those who already live, or try to live, in God’s presence, that same search (but in another’s life) is essential whenever their paths are crossed by someone outside the church: someone who may have had no contact at all with Christianity. In such situations I believe we should simply be asking ourselves, ‘What would Jesus do?’ ‘What would Jesus say?’ There will always be those who insist that the start point should be, ‘What does the Church teach? ‘What does the Church say we should do?’ and by Church they will mean their own particular denomination or group: their own church.

The Holy Spirit has been given to us as guide and teacher, an unwavering presence whose reason for being with us is to inspire, build and empower the Church, spreading knowledge and truth among its members. We cannot separate the two: the Holy Spirit is the powerhouse of Christ’s Church, and no man or woman can claim the authority to stand, proclaim, teach or lead within it without His gifts and His guidance.
‘... The church today, as much as at the church at Pentecost, is constituted by and utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit.” (Shaping our Future. J.S.Freeman. (Quoted in Fulfilment and Frustration. Alan Abernethy.))

In the past I have had an ongoing discomfort with anything causing me to even think of questioning what others within my own church say should be done. It was a part of the overlong extension of my perceived spiritual immaturity: what I had taken as being a lengthy period of preparation and learning prior to any advance along my path. How blind I had been. When I became aware that it was time to move along, my view of myself and of my place in the world altered as though rousing from a half sleep. I awoke to find myself in unknown territory somewhere further along the road on which I had set out. I had been travelling all the time but my lack of confidence – my lack of trust – had held my perception back; I had not been prepared to take any form of risk: to risk thinking that I might be ready for anything other than requiring support from others. I had clung to my own felt needs without recognizing that they had evaporated, leaving a calm and non-threatening understanding that I was now in a position to begin reaching out to others.
As I write about it now, it sounds and seems so simple: a quick and easy transition from needy vulnerability to a potentially fruitful resilience and self-belief. That is not how it usually is, and that is not how it was for me. Between the two was a long period of comfortable self-absorption during which any felt need for support from others faded away in step with their increasing absence. Whether this was cause and effect (whichever side of the situation may have been the cause), or whether it was a mutual but unplanned withdrawal in response to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I may never know; but I do know that it is in the past and is of no consequence now, apart from having taught how easily valuable time can be lost.

I have recently been told of a young woman who had approached her local church because she wanted her baby to be baptised. She does not go to church, but becoming a mother had changed her whole outlook on life. Having her child baptised suddenly became very important to her, but it seems that it will not happen. The vicar had told her that she would have to come regularly to the church for three months before the baptism could take place, and this she was not prepared to do.
I can understand some of the thinking behind this situation, from both the mother’s and the vicar’s points of view, but it leaves me with a real feeling of sadness that this young person’s recognition of something, and what may have been the start of her tentative spiritual search has been brushed away by a man-made suppression of spontaneity and a corresponding need for conformity and adherence to rules. Does it matter to anyone else apart from the mother whether the baby is baptized? Does it matter to us? What would Jesus have said to her? These questions only have meaning if we believe baptism to have any value. Is it something of real worth and therefore of importance, or is it one of the many parts of church life and organized religion which are conjured up, encouraged and then virtually set in stone without any requirement or instruction from God? If the former, somebody should run after that young mother and her child, spend time listening and finding out about them, and then find a way of discussing the question of baptism without creating a gulf between us and them: without turning them away from the possibility of future contact. If the latter, it is time to look closely at what we are doing and what we believe. Are we in any way even in touch with the reality of Christ’s Church? Are we Christians in anything but name?

That same young mother, perhaps unknowingly longing for the gift of the Holy Spirit, not only for her child but for herself, could so easily have been present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. She could have been in the crowds that listened to Peter as he said,
“You must repent, and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38).
As a stranger to the country and its religion, she would have heard him go on to say, “The promise that was made is for you and your children (the Jews), and for all those who are far away (the gentiles), for all those whom the Lord our God is calling to himself.” (Acts 2:39)

I picture her walking home in the quiet of evening, smiling at her baby, with heart filled to bursting and with tears of joy on her cheeks; she has found her Lord and is wrapped in the safety of an awareness of His having found her. They are inseparable: they are the Holy Spirit and Christ’s Church portrayed at the level of a single human life. What a mother she will be for her child.
God’s plan for mankind is echoed in her newfound sense of wonder as she is anonymously included in the words of Acts 2:41.
‘That very day about three thousand were added to their number.’

About Me

Who I am should be, and should remain, of little consequence to you. Who you are is what matters; who you are meant to be is what should matter most to you. In coming closer to my own true self, I have gradually been filled with the near inexpressible: I have simply become "brim full", and my words to you are drawn from those uttered within myself, as part of an undeniable overflowing that brings a smile to my every dusk, and to my every new dawn.
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