I’ve been doing some thinking over the past week, about God and how I view him. I’ve been challenged to think about if I am right about the way I view God, and if not why not. This has been challenging to me, as I’m not sure there is a “right” way to see God. (There are certain fundamentals, which I’m not up for debating, the Nicene Creed is a good reference point for what these things are.) The way that I see it, God is in the centre, and as Christians we are all standing looking at him from slightly different points. Therefore while we are looking at the same God we will see things slightly different, and by sharing we will see more of how amazing, and beyond our understanding God is.
Somebody challenged me about seeing God in black and white this week, which has set me thinking. (I’m sorry if the way I thought about it offends anyone, but if you are here it probably won’t!) When I was a child I used to watch a children’s T.V program called Bagpuss. I loved Bagpuss, and in my brain he was a ginger tom cat, because I only ever watched him in black and white. When as a teenager I first saw him in colour I was freaked out when he turned out to be pink and cream, I won’t to go back to the way I thought he should be, to see him how I was comfortable, and how made sense to what I knew (cats aren’t pink!) Over time I’ve got use to him in colour, and enjoy him that way. It’s a little like my relationship with God, when I was little I saw God in black and white, and when I first started to see him in colour I was scared and confused, wanting to return to where I felt comfortable. As I have got used to seeing God in colour, I have begun to appreciate how much more glorious and amazing he is. I know that he is constantly moving (not changing, just moving so that I see different and new things.) I just struggle with how this means I relate to those who are seeing in black and white.
My friend sent me these beautiful flowers yesterday, so thought they could make it be picture of the day today!
“They found, like many explorers before them, that somehow, in their absence, they had got into trouble at home.” This quote set me thinking, it’s not even vaguely about the church but feels like it could be. Often those who are brave enough to go into the unknown, to explore and experience new things, and not to just stay where they are comfortable, get to experience new, exciting and potentially scary thinks about their faith, but if they return to share their experiences, they often find, that even before they start to share what they have experienced, that others aren’t listening because they are already in trouble for exploring.
When I hear somebody saying “the Bible clearly says”, what I hear is somebody using the Bible to back up their own thinking, and in the process using it to hurt others. Often they don’t mean to hurt others, they have good motivations, and they want to serve God the best they can. But what they are actually often doing is causing overs unnecessary hurt, but also depriving us all of the richness of the Bible. As soon as we are sure that seeing things in black and white is the right thing to do, it means that we don’t look at it in other ways and notice new things, see things that we haven’t seen before, that help to expand our view of God. By being so sure we hurt ourselves as we don’t allow God to show us more of who he is, of seeing a little bit more of God who is beyond our understanding, and also hurt others through imposing a view on them which can have serious consequences on their lives. I can look back at history and see how the church has used the Bible to for example back up slavery and apartheid. We now look back and say how can that be? What will the church in 200 years look back on about us and say, how could they think like that?
Here’s a question!?
Why does noone ever approach you at church and say “God told me to tell you you’ll not be healed, but I’m here to walk the journey with you”?
My friend had posted the above question on facebook. This set me pondering. Let me start by saying I believe in prayer, I belief that God has the power the heal, I also believe that God doesn’t always heal. On a simple level I believe that this is because in order to heal all situations where there is hurt he would have to remove free will, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t get frustrated with situations where he doesn’t heal.
Anyway back to the original questions, my immediate response is why would he? Now don’t get me wrong, my question is why would he need to? Should not our reaction automatically be, yes it would be amazing if God was to heal you, but right now you need somebody to walk this journey with you. I was reminded of the passage in Matthew (25 v 31-46) when Jesus said “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” He then goes on to say when we do this for others we are doing it for him. This is what he gave us the power to do every day. This is what we shouldn’t need a special instruction to do, but should just do, and I know it’s not easy, for either those we are walking with or ourselves, but that shouldn’t stop us doing it. I always think when I am praying, could I be the answer to my prayer? Should I be asking God for something that he has already answered, by giving me the resources/ knowledge/ friendship in this situation? None of this stops me praying for answers, for healing, for changes of situations and believing that God could step in supernaturally and change the situation, but I know that more often God’s answer isn’t no, but is answer is, here is the resources, the people you need to get through today.
Last night and this afternoon I went to services at the local Episcopal Cathedral, which would be a lot higher and less evangelical than a lot of the churches that I have been to. Today during the stations of the cross service my mind wandered (those who know me will not be surprised to hear.) I was looking at the pulpit and the lectern amongest other things that were covered in black cloth, and how empty the building looked with the alter removed and other things stripped away. It really helped to reinforce that often at Easter we are so busy looking forward to Easter Sunday, that we don’t pause and experience the “what if it hadn’t happened.” We fail to appreciate the lack of hope, that we would be living with. Also we fail to even begin to understand how it must have been for the disciples. Without at least trying to enter in to the despair of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday we can not full enter into the joy of Easter Sunday.
Back in September, when I was definitely drifting and not sure where I wanted to head in life next, a friend lent me a small clay coracle and said it was to remind me off the saints who drifted to where they believed God was taking them, without sails or oars. At the time I wondered what the modern equivalent is? We set a direction we make choices, it’s not about drifting. The metaphor of the coracle has helped me more than I thought. I decided in December to apply for social work, the application for courses is done through a central body and you put down five choices. The result has not been what I wanted or expected but feeling that it is like getting in a coracle and seeing where I end up has helped me to except this as the next step, and even to look forward to it.
As long term readers of this blog will be aware I have an “interesting” relationship with church, having only recently for the first time started to look forward to church on a consistent basis. In church this morning I started to think about what it is about where I go at the moment that makes me love it, and what I should therefore look for when I move. Previously I might have talked about service styles, the music, what activities there were. Now however I can see what I appreciate, there is a feeling, especially in the prayers, of hope missed with reality. It’s not about praying that God will wave his magic wand and magically fix everything. Instead it is about praying to a God who will be there in the situation, will see the forgotten ones and stand with them in the pain, and hurt. The sermons I also appreciate, instead of feeling like it’s about making sure that all hear the gospel every week, it’s about treating us as grown ups, and helping us to think how we take steps in our faith, how it impacts on what we do. Not sure what I’ll find in the future but I want to hang on to that faith and the real world not being in conflict, but faith being what gets us through real life.
For various reasons, last week was one of those not so good weeks. On Thursday when I met up with my prayer triplet, I was feeling like there was no point praying, because I didn’t have the faith that they would be answered. My limit was asking for it not to be windy on Sunday, as I was going on a short ferry journey with a friend with balance problems. Sunday was not only still, but amazingly sunny. It reminded me that God does care for us, even when we feel like he doesn’t. (Not thinking it through to far, as to what it says about prayer and answers, just being grateful for Sunday.) Also a couple of different people have reminded me to break down in to do able chunks, and it’s ok to say no. I’m trying to remember this, as it is definitely helping at the moment.
Today as part of heritage open days I went to St Lawrence Church, where they had what they were calling Soul Space on. While I didn’t get to see all of it due to time pressures, what I did see I found really helpful. It was designed so that you could just walk round looking at the different stations that they had. It was designed to engage with all your senses. For example it talked about the fragrance of God and how we carry it with us after we have prayed. To help us remember that there were herbs that we were invited to touch and smell, and remember that the smell stays on us. I found particularly helpful the station about praying with icons. It commented that we are made up of body and soul yet often we don’t use our body when we pray, and that using something visual can aid us in prayer. Before anyone comments I realise that icons are far more than this, but is a useful starting point for people who have grown up within the sort of tradition where icons are seen as wrong.
In other news I have to workout how to explain to my mum by next month that it is not unreasonable for me not to know what I am doing in December 2011.
“The metaphorical meaning of language is its more-that-literal, more-than-factual meaning.” This prompted me to think about the way we view words, and language. Maybe instead of searching for that one meaning, we should embrace the variety of meanings, and learn to enjoy the richness which comes from seeing how others view the meaning of the words to enable us to see a wider variety of views, to see the bigger picture. Sometimes however as we embrace the bigger picture of what the words mean, and how we view them differently and how having a variety of meanings can be a positive, we also can start to see that what we meant and how we viewed them, is not a view that can be held as well as seeing this new way of thinking. It then requires me to think through, is this new meaning a valid one, is there any way of reconciling both views, or do I need to chose? What happens when I decide that the valid option is the new one, what does this say about all my previous thinking?