|Sunday, 08 July 2012 20:25|
The church seeks to be modern and relevant - yet risks missing out on all manner of accumulated experience, writes John Rackley. What would happen were we to become more out of step with 2012 conventional behaviour and live in conformity to Christ rather than the comforts of culture?
I learnt to walk on the polished floor of my grandparents’ flat. I learnt a different way of walking around the coastal paths of the South West and among the gorse strewn wastes of Dartmoor. The wisdom of how to walk I took to the Lake District and the Sinai desert later in life.
These accumulated experiences have taught me how to keep walking. Like many other walkers my treks have been both metaphorical as well as actual. I have discovered that previous experience slowly morphs into old wisdom.
I was brought to these thoughts reading an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in The Times, 23 June. Here is a sample of what he wrote.
When one road is blocked, it’s time to take another. Here is my recommendation for the next few years. While everyone else is thinking about economics and politics, executive salaries and the future of the euro, do the opposite, even if it’s hard. Invest in the spirit. Focus on the mind and the soul... Pray.
When material conditions are tough, the best investment we can make is spiritual: in the happiness we don’t buy but make. Join a religious congregation and you will find people who care about ideals and are willing to make sacrifices for them.
You will make friends on whom you can rely and become part of a community on which you can depend. Study sacred texts and you will find yourself transported to a palace of the mind, the ancient but still compelling wisdom of the past. These are powerful sources of inner strength.
He’s writing about old wisdom for new tracks.
He was writing in the secular press.
He would hope that some of his readers would not belong to any religion or faith. Elsewhere he rightly judges the anguished uncertainty of our times. He is not trying to be relevant by being modern.
He has a deep sense of history, nurtured in the story of his people. As he wrote in one his earlier books: when Jews remember, they do so for the future, the place where, if we are faithful to it, the past never dies.
The past need not be our enemy. But I fear sometimes that is our default position; especially in church life. We burn with the desire to meet the needs of our contemporaries. We long for our Christian communities to be seen as relevant and central to public life, but we still need the old wisdom for the new tracks.
How might this be?
I wonder what would happen if we really listened with imagination and understanding to the elders (not the appointed ones) in our churches. We disparage when we call them elderly; only in modern West-driven forms of Christianity are experience + old-age excluded. Not all are obfuscating, recalcitrant throw-backs, unless they’ve been like that from their youth! Perhaps they just need to be asked the right questions.
I wonder what would happen if we travelled around and looked at the ‘worship-centres’ that our predecessors built in order to discover what faith and belief meant to them.
I wonder what would happen were we to release the Bible from its captivity to our need to keep it as the Church’s book and our need to define and interpret it. Instead letting it be what it is - one of the great sacred texts that inspires ideals, builds palaces of the mind, reveals wisdom which thinks the thoughts of God after God has thought them and is a textual incarnation of spirit.
And finally, I am wondering what would happen to the attractiveness of our churches were we to become more strange, out of step with 2012 conventional behaviour, speaking out of turn and living in conformity to Christ rather than the comforts of culture.
Rabbi Jonathan would argue that old wisdom has brought people of the Jewish way plenty of trouble but they have survived. Indeed it is the loss of spiritual idiosyncrasy among his own people that he fears most. Is the church experiencing a similar loss?
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