Sunday 25 July 2010

The Spread of A Spiritual Death

When I go to church, I do so with seriousness. I approach it, I hope, fairly rationally and reasonably. So I went to the Unitarians in the morning and the Anglicans in the evening (evensong). There was another new face visiting in the morning, a once Anglican who had found the Unitarians on the Internet and wanted a place that respected what he did and did not believe. My chat with him was about the theology I'd been presenting.

Always, however, I look for some sort of response at a more emotional level in services, and that came particularly this evening.

For the first time, in a convincing way, I came to a view that I was right not to have pursued Anglican ministry. It has always hung around me that it is something I should have done.

Two years or so back, I realised I could not give Anglican promises, and it hardly matters that only clergy have to state these. I stopped taking communion, and chunks of that service I leave blank. In fact I leave the whole communion prayer blank, to sit in meditation, but have said the Lord's Prayer in the middle. Recently I stopped saying the Lord's Prayer, and that includes when invited to say it in the Unitarian church (it was left out this morning - the presenter was a "Spiritual Humanist").

I thought that the 1662 Evensong would just drift on nevertheless, perhaps endlessly, even as a kind of participating spiritual wallpaper. But this evening it was as dead as a doornail, and I just thought the person presenting has a remaining lifetime of having to plod through all these words. Not me: as I said to a friend afterwards, when I say words I mean them (including when expanding and elasticating theological concepts).

I know this is my final Anglican church. I'm not going to 'top up' in any other. My recent theology has led me to the view that theology as we have it is a construction, a mythology, within which there are ethical principles to test and some to reject - each have to be lived again.

The sermon, delivered by someone else, was about the unlikely and various people that do the work of God, like James the Apostle, and it was said later that God chooses us. I am always happy to think that in the divine selection conference, I was missed out. It's supernaturalist nonsense, of course. What matters is what we do.

He also said that without often criticised Paul, we might all be worshipping still at Stonehenge or, more likely, have minarets instead of churches and worshipping as Muslims. I thought that as for Stonehenge, what a good idea, and as for all being Muslims, that rather denies the fact that Islam has decidedly post-Christian and post-Jewish elements built in: you cannot do that with history. Muhammad wanted his tribes to come together to have the monotheism the others had. Indeed he built a monotheistic tribe.

As for the Church of England, I'm struggling that the institution above the worshipping centre has much ethical basis left. Well it has, contrasted with the Anglican Communion: which is becoming revolting.

Anyhow, I came away picking up a Crosslincs, and I see my letter is in there. The service response and letter seem to go together. If you want to read my letter in the publication, and any of the rest of the publication, it is online, but I suggest pressing the Save button and then opening it up as a .PDF - I think the online page turning thing is horrible.

It was a pleasure to read the heartwarming story about David Yabbacome and his ongoing return to health.

Nevertheless, I must question the use of the words 'miracle' and 'resurrection'. The account of his recovery is entirely natural. Others equally could have recovered, or slipped to death.

Perhaps, these days, words like 'miracle' and 'resurrection' have become a way of speaking, offering no more than adding a theological gloss to otherwise natural events.

We are combinations of biology and culture. It may matter, as consciousness returns, that a community is known to care, or that value is seen in liturgical repetition. But such are mind based strategies of healing along with the rest of the body, and part of who we are, and in relationships between others and the self, and in forms of belief and the use of language.

Words like 'miracle' and 'resurrection' seem to have undergone a shift of meaning. The use in this article clearly responds to our nonsupernatural culture: the problem being that the language adds nothing in public, explanatory terms, other than the subjective use as a person regained consciousness.

People must notice this shift of usage. No one died, and so there was no resurrection into a transformed body; there was no miracle.

There is surely a need for theological honesty. These words are overused and strained. The real sense of wonder and awe is in the recovery itself.

It needs more direct language and more explanation, and therein should lie the theological fascination about our transitory being and the relationship between culture and biology. Theology's obsession with maintaining doctrinal metaphors and the gloss of such language is why explanatory power for our culture-biology interplay has passed to the social sciences, with the sciences providing the basic data.

Adrian Worsfold
Barrow upon Humber

1 comment:

JCF said...

When I go to church, I do so with seriousness.

So do I---sometimes.

Others, I do so w/ curiosity. Or frivolity. Or snark. (And a good bit more, w/ sleepy dutifulness)

More often than not, whatever I came in there with, I leave changed. I think that's healthy (for me and the church---shows we're both alive).

Forgive me for imposing on your spiritual journey (God knows, each one's journey is as unique as our unique Imago Dei) . . . but I can't help wondering if there's something physiological involved (e.g., neuro-chemically, but possibly something else).

How ya doin', Adrian? Would it be worthwhile to (as we 12 Steppers say) HALT? [Meaning, self-check to see if you're Hungry, Angry, Lonely and/or Tired---and to take such actions as you think best, to remediate those conditions?]

Mythologically, I say "Blessings to you." Ethically, my desire is only for your best outcome (in the Here&Now, of course)