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Archive for April, 2009

Those of you following the church year or lectionary will know that we are in Holy Week and last Sunday was Palm Sunday. I preached a short homily in ‘Home‘ – I won’t reprint it all here but just wanted to blog about the main point.

It seems to me that the events of Holy Week provide an interesting outline of the stages of faith. Palm Sunday is like early stage faith – it’s celebratory and euphoric. We backed the winning horse, we were on the right side all along, our guy got elected (we were looping some footage of the Obama election victory as the closest contemporary parallel to Palm Sunday). Our egos love this and it makes us feel good.

There’s nothing wrong with this – God smiles on it and Jesus didn’t rebuke the crowds for misunderstanding his purpose. But Palm Sunday isn’t really transformational. To be transformed we need to go through death and resurrection with Christ and in Christ (to use Saint Paul’s famous phrase). Death of ego, taking up our cross etc. But we don’t want to go that way – it feels like abandonment.

When we are led on (by the Spirit) from the certainty and euphoria of Palm Sunday faith – into the desert or wilderness, along the via dolorosa towards the cross – the huge temptation is to try to somehow get back to the Palm Sunday experience we once knew. But that’s not the way of Christ into which we have been called to follow. The Spirit leads us on to the cross where we commit our spirits into God’s hands – falling back into the arms of God in hope of resurrection.

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Are you experienced?

Sorry for the recent blog silence everyone. It’s been a very busy time – we are opening the Stillpoint ‘Stations of the Cross’ Easter art exhibition tomorrow night at The Jam Factory (an arts cafe/gallery) here in Oxford. The image on the left is the front of the exhibition card which I designed. You are welcome to come along for a drink if you are local and are interested. But that’s not what I want to talk about today – I want to talk about experience.

We finished the latest series of Monday night meditation sessions last week and one of the comments made by someone has really stayed with me. This person said, “it’s so nice to be part of a group that talks about our experiences of prayer”.

I have reflected a lot on this. I think this person is right – we are very unused to talking personally about what actually happens when we pray, our personal experience. We can talk in the abstract, we can talk conceptually, we can talk theologically but conversation about our actual experience of the divine is quite rare. We would rather talk about the mechanics of prayer I think. 

Perhaps this is particularly English thing – we are just too embarrassed to talk about it. 

More widely it seems we would often rather talk about the form than the content. I for one am quite bored (and have been for some time) of talk about ’emerging church’ or ‘new-monasticism’ etc. etc. People make a living from talking about these forms and concepts and conferences and books abound on the subjects. But these things are just supposed to be vehicles which help to deliver an experience of God. We are in danger of becoming ecclesiological train-spotters, hanging around on platforms looking at the engines but not getting on the train and going on the journey.

To change the metaphor, we have become obsessed with the tools and we are often in danger of forgetting that the tools are there to do a job. What we do with the tools is much more important than the tools themselves. 

When we learn to use a new tool we go through some different stages. At first we are very aware of the tool, we’re very conscious of it. As we become more proficient the tool almost becomes an extension of our bodies and we’re not very aware of the tool anymore, we are focussed on what we are doing with the tool. Think of learning to drive or paint as examples.

Perhaps an obsession with church – be it new or old forms – is analogous to this early stage. I long for more conversation about our actual experience of God.

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