News from the clergy
To be “spiritual”, it would seem, has greater appeal in contemporary society than to be “religious”. But what is spirituality? I have come across a multitude of definitions in my time which generally touch upon the core issue of an awareness of a deeper level of reality to life; an appreciation of mystery and wonder and engagement with ultimate questions of meaning and purpose. However, we cannot “do” spirituality in a vacuum. It needs content. As Christians, our spirituality will be informed by the Christian faith: it is “Christian spirituality”. The spiritual writer Kenneth Leech defined it thus: “Christian spirituality is a process in which Christ takes the initiative. It is a putting on of Christ, a solidarity in Christ, a sharing in his dying and rising... It is a work of grace from start to finish.” (Soul Friend, p.5) Or, drawing upon the writings of St Paul, we might define it as, “Anything that is lived according to the Spirit of God.”
Christian spirituality is to do with our growing in Christ-likeness; how we experience being drawn into the life and activity of God by the Spirit. It involves prayer, study of the bible and other Christian literature, but more broadly, spirituality is about the whole of life and how it is formed and shaped by our relationship with God. It has its challenges. We need to let go of ways of thinking and relating that are destructive and self-limiting and take on ways of thinking and relating in harmony with the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Gal 5:22-23) In practice, Christian spirituality and Christian discipleship are inseparable; we cannot have one without the other. We are called to grow in our relationship with God so that all we do flows from our life in God; to live out our full potential and vocation in God and to make God’s kingdom a reality on earth.
This has been the Christian endeavour throughout the ages and many saints have struggled with this tough calling before us. This autumn there is the opportunity to learn from some of them in our “Mystics Ancient & Modern” course. Don’t worry if you cannot commit to all six sessions as each one will be self-contained but of course the more you can attend the better.
Rev Lisa Cornwell
Writing in the Church Times, Dr Pete Ward makes the thought provoking suggestion that in the One Love Manchester concert we may have been witnessing an answer to the “Thy Kingdom Come” prayer initiative. During the concert Marley told the crowd: “Love casts out fear”, which has a clear biblical resonance. Then there was the affirmation from Justin Bieber that God is in the midst of darkness. Religious references and themes abound in popular culture if we look. Since then, there has also been the Great Get Together weekend, with street parties and neighbours coming together, in celebration of Jo Cox’s belief that we have more in common. In general, we are witnessing defiance in the face of those who seek to cause fear and division; the enacting of love in response to hatred and killing on the streets.
The Kingdom of God extends beyond the boundaries of the Church. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We intercede that all may come to live by the values of love, peace, mercy and justice that characterise God’s reign. Mission has often been defined as “finding out what God is doing and joining in”.
Of course in addition to loving our neighbour, the scriptures teach that we should love God, the One who has the power to heal and unite us, with all our hearts. Prayer is the gateway into this love relationship; prayer aligns us with God’s purposes. It is the life blood of the church. It is important that we prioritise it individually and corporately. In our autumn course this year we will explore some of the mystics teaching on prayer. Bishop Andrew, the Bishop of Reading, wrote in a recent diocesan mailing:
“Prayer lies at the heart of who we are. It is in prayer that we know that we are always held in God’s loving gaze, and it is in that gaze that we are changed and it is out of that prayer that the world can be transformed. This is what we do and what we’re about.”
In these troubled times, may we find a sure anchor in God and an openness to embrace those beyond our doors.
Rev Lisa Cornwell