Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos
Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

What is faith?

What is faith, what is religious experience?

Is it the flood of tears that met me on the way back from Launde all those years ago after the exploration of the passover and the eucharist? Was it then those with whom I shared the experience; were they special?

Is it Sunday evening in Kirby Bellars church with Graham, Malcolm and me robing to the smell of the portable gas fires after which we would say Cranmer’s words and read the King James Bible and offer our gloss on it to the faithful few?

Is it Sunday morning at Portloe with those faithful and questioning Christians who would want to argue the toss rather than accepting whatever I said? Was it Ruan, Wartnaby or one of the churches in the Vale where the speaking out of the liturgy week by week offered a transfusion to replenish that which dispels into daily life? 

Ironically is my faith too grounded in church? Is my experience of the Christian life too church centric? The awakening in Thrussington over twenty years ago by that retired priest whose name is lost in time, whose words are lost so that all that remains is the man in his cassock. Which brings me of course to the other man in the cassock whom I met in Philleigh and whom initially I thought of as too much caricature, but who possessed a deeper understanding of our faith than anyone I have ever met.

This then was shattered by the institution of the church which acts in so secular a way. It demands power and obedience. It ignores love and strives only for success.

Jesus failed. He was nailed to a cross. That we can find in this, victory is the Christian ability to turn things on their head to deny entirely the things of this world and to think only of a better realm. Is this realm to come? That is the question: in some sort of life after death for the individual, or at some future time in human existence? 

Does this look in the right direction? My Jewish friends find refreshment in the faithful acting out of the forming events of their religion or race. This is not to knock, but that is what it is, a devotion to what has gone before. Is it then some Christian ritual which, by its intricacy and method, can draw from self a response.

A little while ago I heard the suggestion that it all about hard wiring. Those of us brought up with church and Christian teaching cannot totally let it go; it has become part of our DNA. Or is it something else, in us but apart from us?

The journey goes on.

Good Friday 2016 saw me in St Nicholas Newport Lincoln after Jane’s lunchtime lecture on Macbeth. Jane was at her most brilliant digging as she always does into the air the writer was breathing. The Hermeneutic Tradition fed the English Renaissance through people like Francis Bacon who were breathing into the same air. Shakespeare would pick up the ideas and thinking. He added these to stories handed down through the ages, for example of witches - who in Elizabethan times were still being burnt. Jane explored the psychology of just what it was that entered Macbeth and indeed Lady Macbeth.

This links to the account of the passion, certainly through Luke who talks of Satan entering Judas.

So to St Nicholas and the liturgy of the passion. We heard a prophetic reading from Isaiah, a short passage from Hebrews and then the St John passion. This was followed by a long period of prayer when we admitted to the wrongs done to Jesus. I visualised the children drowning in the Aegean, the woman who went alive into the furnace at Auschwitz, the airmen who died on the long march and the crew who died in bombers. The long list of those innocent who have died or suffered as a result of man’s sin.

I wonder whether Jesus died for them, the sinned against, to be alongside those who suffer? 
With thanks to Jim Newton

The hijacking of Jesus

They have taken my Lord…and I know not where they have laid him

These well known words of Mary are of course words of Easter, and now we are approaching Advent, so why?

The ‘why’ is serendipitous. Last year Maggie told me of a review she had heard of a Man Booker Prize shortlisted book, I promptly added it to my birthday list and my daughter, Jo, duly gave it to me. I started to read it, but failed to get into it; I put it down. This September I took it up again and have found it revolutionary, or do I mean revelatory?

Colm Toibin’s immensely moving book, the Testament of Mary, seeks to tell the story of Jesus from the point of view of his mother. From this vantage point we are shown a number of the events familiar through the Biblical accounts, principally the Wedding at Cana and the Raising of Lazarus, though nothing can prepare us for the account of the crucifixion. A mother witnessing unbelievable agony in her son is an image for which we cannot prepare. In the book it is short and sharp and stuns.

Whilst this image is central, the theme of the book is that Jesus, a good man, has been ‘hijacked’ by those who want more. They form an hysterical group around him and egg him on. The chill in the story emerges with grey shadowy men who seek to control Mary into her old age. They want from her an account of what happened that fits with their agenda. She resists. Everything seems to be orchestrated by men in power, essentially weak men who exert control through fear.

As she approaches her death, these men tell her what her son has achieved. Phrases which might be recognised as articles of faith are trotted out and fall flat in the context of what Mary, the heart broken mother, knows. She concludes, that, no, it wasn’t worth it.

The whole book is powerful. There are passages which strike strong chords with ‘middle C’ of my previous post. The scene where there are men in hierarchies who demand to be listened to - surely a deliberate construct of the author, but one which seems to fit. The painstaking but angry work of the fictional ‘gospel’ writers as they wrestle with the difference between what Mary remembers and the theme they are determined to project.

The book, as did Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, again poses the question of whether the man we know as Jesus was hijacked by the religious men of his time, as, I might suggest, he is perhaps hijacked by the architects of great churches, composers of the great choral works, painters and sculptors, even preachers who use his stories to perfect the composition and delivery of ten minutes of thought provoking Sunday morning prose (present company excepted!).