thoughts on faith, justice, politics and philosophy

Month: July 2013

The Times They Are A Changin’

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I’ve been wrestling for some time now with the idea of God, the idea of Church, the idea of salvation, the idea of eternal life – what it all means, if it is true, if it is even worth pursuing. My search has taken my soul through some dark, dark nights, and through some broad, sweeping apathies.

Recently, things have begun to change. After a particularly difficult June I decided that I need to look after myself a bit more – enjoy life, not worry too much. Stop over-thinking all this ‘faith stuff’ and just try being myself and relaxing for a bit. I booked a holiday, I’ve decided to get the car I’ve wanted since I was 14 (Yes, it’s a VW camper). I’ve made sure to make a couple of pilgrimages to my favourite ‘thin’ place, the beach.

It was on one of these trips to Dunraven Bay in South Wales (known locally as Southerndown beach) that I began to sense a change in my faith journey. I have been reading, over a prolonged period of time, “Naked Spirituality” by Brian McLaren. It is a wonderful book where Brian takes us through the various stages of faith, and I have just finished the chapter on ‘Perplexity’ – a stage I would certainly identify with in recent months. In it, he says this:

“For all its angst, there’s beauty in perplexity, the autumn blaze of colour between green an gone. There’s the strength of ruthless honest, the courage of dogged endurance, the companionship of the disillusioned, the determination of the long-distance runner who won’t give up even though he’s exhausted. In that act of not giving up, there is faith too, and hope, perhaps the most vibrant faith and hope of all”.

This is so true! But the best bit is the paragraph that follows…

“There’s a special catalytic moment that comes late in the season of perplexity. Having practised critical thinking about the thoughts of others, thinkers turn their critical eye on their own thinking. They become skeptical about their skepticism and cynical about their cynicism. And in so doing, they begin to push themselves beyond perplexity. But it’s a long, hard road between here and there.”

When I read that my heart simultaneously sank and jumped with excitement. How had I missed this? It is so glaringly obvious! I can be the worlds biggest cynic – but a true cynic would not even cope with their own cynicism. It is an utterly self-defeating concept (not that it is not a necessary stage to go through) and in being so is something sublime.

I recently caught up with a friend, who returned to me two of my favourite books. One of them is “The Jubilee Manifesto” – a book by a collection of authors on what was once my favourite topic – the idea of bringing Biblical Jubilee values to modern society. There was a voice in the back of my mind that seemed to suggest that I should note the timing of its return to me. Being the good skeptic/cynic I duly ignored the voice and carried on with my day.

It was only late last night that I realised that God really does bring things together rather well. You may have seen in the news the Archbishop of Cantebury’s declaration of war against Wonga. Yet it is a war bent not on outright conflict but instead on subversion. If you’ve read my older blog posts you’ll know how much I love the idea of subversive gospel. Of course, a church that has a Credit Union in every branch – a church that you can bank at – that’s near as damn it the early church. Ok, so it’s quite different – but my goodness is it exciting! Here is the body of Christ acknowledging the financial inequality of our society and loudly proclaiming ‘NO MORE’. Amazing. For all its flaws and failures, the Anglican church is still finding itself in step with the whispers of the divine.

So late last night I was explaining this to a friend, and I experience what I feel right now, writing this down – a spine-tingling sense of awe, anticipation, wonder, joy, hope and the very real sense of the presence of something else. Something I cannot explain. But something I can, for the fist time in a very long time, say that I know as God.

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Sometimes I dream of life as a walk along the sea shore. There I am, trudging along the line where land and sea blend into one; the sand pulled reluctantly beneath the belly of the ocean crashing down upon it. My feet are warm, basking in the sunlight beating down upon them. Warm, and then cooler. The waves lap across them, playful, unsure of their permission to cover my feet.

Footprints. Mine are alone. I used to travel with others. Once, a long time ago, I traveled with God. Or so I thought. There he would be, beside me. Sharing in my joy, my fears, my hopes, my anxieties. Now? Nothing. God is nowhere. Some people look back on their footprints in the sand, and they see both sets of prints. Theirs, and those of our Lord. I look back, and I know I can see mine. I’m not sure about God’s, though.

They say that the times when there are only one set of footprints are the times that God was carrying you. Well, if God has been carrying me, then why are my feet so tired? Why are my soles so weary and heavy laden? Why do my toes ache? Why are my legs toughened from hours of trudging through thick gluey sand?

The golden sand I left long ago. Now it is muddy, grimy, grey, dark sand. Sand that swallows you up when you stand still for too long. Sand that engulfs and overpowers you. Sand that you have to be light-footed on, keeping a bare minimum of contact with the reality below your feet in order to keep going. I miss the golden sand. I miss flinging my arms into the air carefree. I miss hearing the voice of God in the wind and the waves. I miss hearing the voice of God in the calm and quiet rhythm of the ocean.

It’s funny how the sand is so much nicer further from the ocean. Further from danger, further from the tantalising, tempting lure of the deep blue. Perhaps I should walk further ashore, where the sand is always golden, where the sun it seems always shines, where the wind is not quite so chilling.

Somehow that doesn’t satisfy. There’s something in these waves. Something calling out to me. Something asking me to join them. Something within me that calls out back and declares my allegiance – I am of this ocean. I will not steer clear of the danger, of the mystery, of the paradox of the ocean; calming yet immeasurably powerful. Graceful yet ferocious. Somehow, I know the risks, I know about the pull of the tides and the floors beyond my depths – yet I still crave to be there.

One day, perhaps, I will ride the waves. I will know what it is to be out of depth, to swim where perhaps even sharks and jellyfish make their claim to home. One day, I will go deeper. I will catch the crests of the rolling barrels of water as they make their way towards the shore. And I will be at peace.

For now, I walk along the sea shore. I look over my shoulder and I remind myself that way back there, around that corner, beyond that cliff –  there were two sets of footprints. I’m sure of it. Unless I’ve gone mad in this heat. No. I’m sure of it. I wonder to myself where that second pair has gone. They aren’t carrying me. I think perhaps they left a while back.

I think they went for a swim.

They’re beckoning me now.

Maybe I’ll join them.

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