Monday, 4 March 2013

Lent for Extroverts 17: No spiritual short cuts

Some things said in the name of Christianity which one hears on National Radio are very depressing, such as random callers using the sentences 'I'm a Christian with Christian beliefs' and 'I don't really like gay people, they repulse me' in the same interview. 

It's far too simplistic to equate being a Christian with having a secure moral framework which no one is going to come in and violate, thank you very much. I'm sure the Jews who asked Jesus 'who is my neighbour?' had a secure moral framework, and it undoubtedly involved Samaritans and other 'beyond the pail' groups being shut out from the blessing and grace of God.

Christ-likeness is so much deeper than rules and what we're allowed or not allowed to do. How do we get away from Christians being associated with ranting and Mr angry characters exhibiting disapproval and a censorious attitude to people whom they cannot understand and whom they fear?

Holiness and wisdom rub off on you, so mostly lacking the opportunities to go and sit in monasteries and convents and other places where I might meet such wisdom and holiness in the flesh, I trawl the bookcase and come up with three writers, you could say role models, who are often my antidote to the uninformed, un-thought through and unkind comments from a 'Christian' on a lunch time radio programme. Interestingly none of them is Anglican.

Archbishop Anthony Bloom
I found School for Prayer in my Grandmother's bookcase and read it straight through initially just as a fascinating account of one person's life. Anthony Bloom was a Russian emigre in Paris who joined the French Resistance when War broke out in 1939. He had become a Christian as a result of meeting an inspiring priest on a boys summer camp and reading St Mark's gospel, during which he sensed Christ standing on the other side of the room from him, which convinced him the resurrection was true. After the war he took secret monastic vows (you couldn't be a physician and a monk at the time) and was ordained into the Russian Orthodox church in 1948, coming to England in1949 and rising to the position of Metropolitan before his death in 2003. His spirituality is one of entirely earthed, tried and tested, deep mystical prayer - he begins with the stance that we pray when we come to the end of ourselves and can only call out to something greater than us, in desperation. 

Richard Foster
A Quaker who founded Renovare, an organisation devoted to the deepening of Christian character and formation through the spiritual disciplines, his Celebration of Discipline (1978) has been my mainstay over nearly three decades of trying to follow Christ and grow in depth and Christ-likeness. He shows how prayer, bible reading, meditation, solitude, silence, simplicity and other classical disciplines are not ends in themselves but ways to go deeper into God, and in this life long task there really are no short cuts. There's something very uncompromising about it, but the prize is depth. His writing is warm and has a wonderful freedom and joy to it. 'Superficiality is the curse of our age..the greatest need today is ... for deep people' (from the Foreword, by David Watson). 

Fr Christopher Jamison
A Benedictine, Fr Jamison came to attention during the making of The Monastery, a BBC programme which charted the progress of six ordinary people who committed to staying in a Monastery to see what the wisdom of the Monastic tradition could offer to modern life. The answer was that it offers a great deal. Many people want to be happy but they find that life as served up in many ways today leaves them with nothing but consumerism and shallowness. His Finding Happiness takes a fresh look at the seven deadly sins, which impede true happiness, and adds 'Acedia' in for good measure (making 8). This was known to the desert fathers and mothers - a kind of spiritual boredom and laziness which stops us from flourishing and growing in goodness and in God. It's challenging stuff. Again, it's not easy answers Christianity; much more a life long calling to depth and holiness.

When I'm despairing of the state into which we have got, of the creepingly low position in which 'The Church' is held in the media (which we do nothing to assist sometimes) I go back to these three, amongst others, and tell myself, this is what it's really about.

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