Dear Saints, recently, I joined in a group discussion of some friends gathered from across the globe. We had a very relaxed discussion about matters of faith. In fact, ‘faith’ was the topic of discussion.
We were using a Zoom account, and so we only had 40 minutes, which is a good way to keep the conversations tight. We jumped into the conversation with two questions: What does the word faith mean to you? And, How do you understand spirituality? What a blessing when a group of friends can talk like this!
The responses led us into a conversation about listening. How spirituality (or faith) is a journey of interacting with others in which we listen and grow and learn together. Remember, I spoke about this same issue in my sermon last week? A ‘Journey’ is a rich metaphor for the life of faith, and one that we find sewn into the Scriptures, both Old and New.
We noted that talking can sometimes stop us from listening, and that silence is a profound way to engage with God and to listen deeply. And maybe in our noisy world, faith requires us to retreat more into silence so that we can listen better.
You will notice that I have a screen set up in the worship building. I wasn’t sure that we needed another screen and maybe we need to get away from screens in order to worship God. Nonetheless, there are benefits to having a screen available. I aim to show on Sunday how we can use it effectively.
We also noted that, as much as talking can be about control and a failure to listen, sometimes we listen with an agenda, which is equally controlling behaviour. My experience of church is that this is true. Somebody will come to me after a Service and say, “You can’t say that!” or “I didn’t like that” or “I can’t believe you believe that!” or some other controlling way of expressing an expectation. All clergy know about who wants to control the narrative.
Even in the wider denomination there is a subtle and sometimes not-so subtle move to control what is allowed to be thought or said or believed. We may want to control-out any sense of the Mystery of God. Control is ultimately a legalism heresy – as though God can’t deal with our offence. (Yip, we still think like this!)
And sometimes we can talk in a way that opens us up to listen – by asking questions with genuine curiosity, or by sharing ourselves so that a connection happens which then deepens our ability to listen. Strangely, we will never achieve genuine connection whilst we are trying to control what is allowed.
We tend to forget that we serve a Lord who illegally spoke to a Samaritan woman; who freed an adulterous woman from death-by-stoning; who cheekily healed someone on the Sabbath; and who’s day of worship shifted from the Sabbath as per the Ten Commandments to the first day of the week – the day of resurrection. We forget how Jesus bucked the controlling voices of his day.
We also spoke about how faith is about trust, but also about doubt. One great quote on this is: “Faith is what’s left when all our beliefs have been obliterated.”
We also spoke about faith as being the opposite of certainty, and how silence is an act of trust.
Finally, we explored how spirituality for some is about mystical connection with God, and how faith supports this. And then how sometimes trust is difficult when God seems to turn away and we do not receive the divine help we need.
For the last few minutes, we shifted to exploring what science means to us. We explored the interface between science and life, and how science and spirituality connect. We recognised that there is often a Gnostic approach to science and spirituality, where we feel that spirit is good and the physical world is bad.
Some emphasised that actually science is (or should be?) part of our spirituality. It can even be a spiritual discipline. And how the heritage of faith we have received shows us how to see God in the wonders of creation. Science – and the insights of science – are not to be feared but is a call to see God’s splendour.
Finally we spoke about the age old tradition that what we see in creation tells us about God (natural theology), and how we have lost this sense in many ways. But, we also saw how, in our little community, we’re working to recapture that and hold together both our faith and what we learn from science.
What we saw was that when we have faith, that is, when we deeply trust each other then we find we don’t need to control others or even the behaviour of others. But in that we can share our stories of life and faith and indeed learn from each other.
I deeply appreciate my little online community, where I have received so much affirmation and acceptance. How I wish we could learn that in the Church. God doesn’t need defending! When we trust each other in community and with our stories there we may find God without trying to control what we think is permissible in the narrative.
So with these thoughts in mind, may you have a blessed weekend, friends. God is trustworthy – that is, God is worthy of our trust.
Live into the Mystery of God!
Peace and grace to you all,