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Be Still - Three - Lectio Divina

So, having established, in my last post, that we need to cultivate quiet in order to hear God as we need to, how might we go about that?

In theory, it’s simple. Find somewhere physically quiet. It might be a quiet, comfortable, space in the house, or a bench in the park, or somewhere else like that - somewhere one isn't likely to be disturbed. Sit down and do nothing.

I wish, oh, how I wish, that it was so simple.

I have, and I’m sure you do too, a mind which is full of thoughts, hopes, fears, ideas, memories, more thoughts, and so on. They race around inside my head, competing for my attention, until I’m quite weary of them, and feel like yelling "Be quiet, will you!!" I can’t just ‘switch them off’ - it doesn’t work that way.

So, what do I do?

Well, I sit. And I stay still. And I resist the urge to check Facebook, empty the washing machine, collect the post from the doormat, or any other of a dozen things which might distract me for the duration of this time. This is time for me and God, and I am determined not to let the world, even the good things of the world, intrude on that. Usually, I need to do ‘something’; some ‘spiritual exercise’, in order to focus, and to ‘drive out’ all those extraneous thoughts, so that I can hear God’s still, small voice.

Be Still - Two

The modern world is noisy. It’s actually very hard to get away from noise. From the distant hum of aircraft passing far overhead; the noise of traffic on nearby roads; all the modern aids to living (washing machines and so on); the sound of conversations; to ‘music’ - every shop you go in has some radio station or other burbling away to itself and you. And most of us have ceased even to notice it with our conscious minds.

We have become accustomed to noise. Indeed many of us feel uncomfortable without it - we try to replace the silences by constantly ‘listening’ to music - i.e. having earphones in, and our devices playing music to us.

Even in church - certainly in our church - a service leader will say ‘now we’re going to have a few minutes of quiet to think about what we’ve been hearing.' And then they proceed to talk via the PA system throughout the ‘silence’ - as if, actually, silence is a bad thing.

That is such a contrast to the rest of human history. Life was, to a large extent, quiet. Yes, there was conversation. And yes, there were some loud sounds - like horses and carts on cobbled streets, or the blacksmith working - and in towns and villages in the daytime that sort of thing could be quite deafening. And there was music - people played instruments, and sang - but it was deliberate, and active, rather than passive. But constant noise wasn’t the norm. Much of the time, the loudest sounds were birdsong, and the drum of rain on the roof.

Be Still...

This is a time when we are supposed to be ‘socially distancing’ - and church, as we usually do it, is about as far from social distancing as it’s possible to get - lots of people, crowded together in a confined space; handshakes, hugs, shared bread and wine - it’s an epidemiologist’s nightmare, and like having died and gone to heaven if you’re a virus.

The church is, I’m glad to say ‘stepping up’ and finding ways to help out the vulnerable and needy in our society. But it strikes me that, as well as reaching out to others, we need to be kind to ourselves too, and to find ways (perhaps new ways - or through the revival of ancient ways) to maintain our own spiritual lives, and to continue to grow in our knowledge and live of God.

The circumstances are difficult, but Christianity is the faith for difficult times - so often, down the centuries, it has been when times were tough that the church has stepped up and been there - both for its members and for those ‘outside’. And we have such a wonderful literature of wisdom for tough times - forged during the hard times its authors went through - and we can draw on that for comfort. At this time of ‘pestilence’, I find myself drawn to Psalm 91...

Where is God?

This follows on from the previous post - in a fairly tenuous way.

So, how do we meet God? Where is God? Conventional Christian doctrine tells us that God is everywhere - so, surely, we should be able to encounter Him anywhere?

But is that the experience of most believers?

I don't think so.

For many (or most?) Christians, God is not present in the here and now. He is someone they hope to meet 'in the sweet by and by'. He dwells in heaven, and they hope, by confessing that Jesus is Lord, saying the right prayers, and living good, Christian, lives - obeying the rules, giving to the poor, etc., to meet Him there when they die. God is out of reach, and the purpose of this life is simply to prepare us for the next life. Eternal life, as promised by the supposedly Good News, is something which begins when we die. This world is a melancholy place which cannot satisfy us - almost all satisfaction is locked away in the future. Any pleasure we get is fleeting, and cannot compare with what we will experience when we die, and so we should not get fixated on it. This is, as I said in an earlier post, mostly thought which can be attributed to Plato rather than the bible.

The Law of Love

I've touched on this subject before, but after several years’ worth of hard reading and thinking, I fancy I have a better developed, more nuanced, view. But there's a lot to it, and it's hard to know where to start. I suppose it sort of follows on from some of the thoughts in myprevious post.

We humans appear to like rules. We know where we are with rules; they establish boundaries which we know we oughtn't to cross. But you know what? Most of us are rubbish at obeying rules - even though we like them. We 'push the boundaries' of whatever it is - at best. At worst, we ride roughshod over the rules and go our own way. That’s free will and our rebellious nature coming to the fore. And, somehow, it’s sort of ‘built in’ (some might call that the ‘sinful nature)… Unless something is forbidden, we aren’t all that bothered, but ban it, and doing that very thing becomes our obsession. Think of the child told not to touch the stove-top because it’s hot!

The church has rules - a mixture of some of the Old Testament laws, with a few other 'cultural' rules thrown in for good measure, all ‘papered over’ with a thin veneer of New Testament love. Really, the message often seems to be 'obey the rules and you'll go to heaven'. It's almost 'justification by works'. And we don't; we can't follow the rules (see above) - in pretty similar fashion to the Israelites who couldn't follow the Law God gave them! Guilt, fear, and shame ensue, all too often.

I am the Resurrection and the Life

This is, probably, the first in a series of about three posts around a developing theme - exploring the ‘implications’ of what was discussed in my previous post.

I have recently ‘discovered’ a different way of thinking about what Jesus did for our relationship with God - or, at least, a form of words which is different, and which sheds new light on it for me. It may, of course, be ‘old hat’ for you.

When Jesus cast the money changers, dove sellers, and other ‘traders’ out of the temple He was questioned as to under whose authority He was operating:

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”John 2:18

And His somewhat enigmatic response was:

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”John 2:19

Of course, the Jews thought he meant the physical, bricks and mortar, temple, whereas it turned out that Jesus was actually referring to Himself as the temple.

Under the old covenant, the temple in Jerusalem was the meeting place between God and His people Israel - the people He intended to be His ambassadors in the world. The temple was the place where heaven and earth touched… It was the place on earth where the glory of God rested. That changed when Jesus died on the cross.

The Day The Revolution Began

When it was first published in 2017, I read Tom Wright’s “The Day the Revolution Began: Rethinking The Meaning Of Jesus' Crucifixion”. It gave me a great deal to think about. It’s not an easy read, on several levels: it’s pretty densely packed with ‘stuff’, and a lot of the ‘stuff’ was either difficult, new to me, or both. Recently I read it again, and I think I may be approaching a point where I am able to talk about it.

One (or three?) of Wright’s main assertions is that we have ‘paganised’ God (by portraying him as an angry tribal deity who needs a human sacrifice in order to be placated); that we have ‘platonised’ our eschatology (i.e. our views of what happens when we die, and the ‘end-times’, owe far more to the views of Plato rather than the bible) and that the result of this is that we end up treating Christianity as little more than a moral code - a set of rules to be followed - rather than a radical new way of living.

What do I mean by the latter point?

If the whole focus of our religion becomes about ‘getting to heaven’ (which we’ll have more to say about in a moment), then what difference does how we act make? If we ‘are saved’ (i.e. we have our ticket to heaven) then how we act isn’t a salvation issue - because salvation is entirely about what happens after we die. To attempt to make how we act relevant we try to impose a code of behaviour (somewhat based on the bible, but often going well beyond anything it may ‘demand’) onto people simply because it is how we should act, but without any logical reason.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2020