Thursday, 5 February 2009

Beyond words

Some words can be unhelpful to self-proclaimed and recognized Christians, as well as to those outside the Church who are searching for the underlying simplicity of faith obscured by such words. That a specific word may carry exactly the meaning being sought is, of course, potentially helpful. However, the precision of a specific meaning is frequently incomprehensible without some pre-existing awareness of the reality behind the meaning gained through one’s own experience. It sounds absurd, but the meaning is cloaked by the very existence of a word intended to convey it.
A living faith is what we all need. A living faith is what we should be longing to see in the lives of others around us, not for them alone but because this brings about the generation of meaningful community with its constant provision of support and encouragement. Every one of us is in need of this support in one form or another, but if there is nobody nearby with a faith that has come to life, how is that life to be even spoken of in ways that may begin to drag existing Christians out of their habitual lethargy, and inspire outsiders to come a little closer?

Words from the quotation used at the end of the previous post keep returning to me: ‘Concentrate on what has been assigned you’.
This is what each of us should be doing, and whether or not we think we know where we are going, what we are meant to be doing, and how we are meant to be doing it, it is far too easy to direct our energies in totally futile ways. We strive toward some ill-defined end which presents itself as needing our efforts and our focus, but which saps our strength and our enthusiasm, without achieving anything other than confusion, frustration and disillusionment. The experience leaves us dulled, and our faith begins to resemble a cardboard cut-out rather than the vibrant presence upon which we had been hoping to build. Joy drains away, and it becomes easier not to bother. We leave it all behind for a while as we seek to brighten our lives again through some unrelated, unhelpful, or even distinctly unholy activity or entertainment.
If we are somewhere out near the edge looking in, all this may have occurred through our tentative attempts to find out more, and through a willingness to move closer to the anticipated warmth in the hope that it was being generated by truth . Perversely, our attempts may have floundered, not through doubt, or feelings of being unworthy, out of place, or too conspicuous, but on the incomprehensibility of words.
However welcome we are made to feel on a human level, we may feel spiritually excluded by two assumptions, both of which are false. Firstly, that grasping the meaning of words we do not really understand is necessary to our belonging, and to our becoming a recognized and accepted part of Christ’s Church. Secondly, that the people who otherwise make us feel so welcome, do themselves fully understand these words.

The echoing of those words, ‘concentrate on what has been assigned you’, began after a few days of trying to put something together for this post. I found it almost impossible to focus my thoughts in a way that produced anything coherent; I was unable to concentrate despite my efforts to do so. The several disjointed directions in which I began writing all became dead-ends, until I began to read those words in the way I am now doing. Here is the full quotation again.

‘Do not try to understand things that are too difficult for you,
or try to discover what is beyond your powers.
Concentrate on what has been assigned you,
you have no need to worry over mysteries.’
(Ecclesiasticus 3:21-22)

I had been following my own thoughts and ideas to such an extent that I had left no room for any form of guidance. If I had been directed towards something I would probably have remained unaware, and I find that an appalling thought. What enables me to say that I may have failed to recognize any prompting, is that I woke up to the fact that I had failed to notice my loss of self-control. I had lost all awareness of my own limitations, and, although without any active contribution from or to my pride, I had lost whatever humility I may have had. I had been trying to understand things that were too difficult for me, and trying to discover what was beyond my powers. I had not restricted my concentration to what had been assigned me, and, instead, had wasted time and energy worrying over mysteries.
I had not been doing what I had managed to do over a long period with ‘Redemption’, that is, laying aside my meagre understanding without delving into the problems that seemed to arise from it; waiting while its gradual growth branched within my increasing maturity, and came into leaf with the combined experience of my human and spiritual life.

And those same lines will speak to each of us if we read them, not from wherever we would like to be, or from wherever we think we ought to be, but from the place where we really are. If we can lay our self-image aside in simple hope and trust, we can step beyond the many non-existent hurdles that appear to get in our way, hold us back, or push us from the path. It is another form of allowing ourselves to stand at the very edge so that we can go beyond it. It only ever becomes a place of fear when we shudder at the thought of it, and vow never to venture too near. The edge itself is of no real consequence; what we seek is always beyond. Difficult words are of no consequence for the same reason; what they attempt to convey, and what we seek, is always beyond.

A recent letter from a friend included the following: -
‘I now wonder how anyone, inside or outside the Church, can relate to such alien and esoteric language that so much of the church uses on a daily basis. I can’t for the most part detach my early first steps and beginning of faith within certain traditions, but at the same time I now have completely changed my opinion and wonder how anyone is supposed to find or even discuss God and His Church when it is wrapped up in language such as “supplication” and “repose of the soul” which I heard in a service only the other day.’

In reality there is no barrier in these things, and certainly not in the mere words, but so long as they contribute to feelings of exclusion and a form of what could be regarded as inverse heresy (confusion and distraction within the Church over matters well understood by anyone with a real relationship with Christ), they will not only continue to appear and feel like barriers, but may be the outer signs of a very real absence of spiritual life – real, living, and Spirit filled faith – within the Church. We must hope that any truth in this possibility is more likely to be applicable to particular local churches rather than Christ’s Church in general.
We must not allow these already problematic words to gain a form of power over us by our submission to whatever intimidation they seem to create within us.

If something seems to be beyond your understanding, let it go; do not allow it to divert you from the truths which have already been assigned to you. There is no barrier between you and those truths.
There is no barrier between you and Jesus. Follow Him, as did His first disciples. Trust Him. See where He leads.

‘Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, “What do you want?”
They answered, “Rabbi” – which means Teacher – “where do you live?”
He replied, “Come and see;”
so they went and saw where He lived, and stayed with Him that day.’
(John 1:38,39)

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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