Love is the meaning ...

A blog by Rev'd John Allen


21 February 2021 - Lent 1


Which comes first?  Knowing God or believing in God?  In my experience knowing comes first.  It is something that just happens.  You simply accept it, even take it for granted.  It is intuitive.  You cannot explain and probably do not try.  But there comes a time when you want to understand and respond in a coherent way and this is the beginning of believing.

For me this was triggered as I became painfully aware of the contradictory nature of the world into which I had been born.  It was wonderful and it was terrible.  People were loving but some were horrible.  At school I found friends and bullies.  There was a world to explore and enjoy but much that was threatening and menacing.  There was love and hate, peace and war.  The world was fiercely competitive full of winners and losers.  It seemed that all creatures had to prey on one another in order to survive.

I discovered my desperate need for just ONE whom I could absolutely trust in all circumstances.  There is no such human person.  I needed ONE who would love me unconditionall, and would know my longings and darkest secrets, give me strength and courage and draw from me the best that I can give.  I needed to believe in GOD.

Is belief in God simply an escapist fantasy contrived by wimps unable to cope with the harsh realities of this hostile world?  Cynics who class themselves as realists either answer Yes or simply shrug their shoulders and just get on living as best they can.  Many of us who are coming to believe in God discover that this belief is beginning to transform our lives and restores our hope in what seems to be a hopeless world.

I had to make a choice between God and despair, between good and evil, between this fallen world and the hope of a new world.  I had to put my life on the line.  I might be wrong.  I might be a fool.  I have no cast iron guarantee.  I make a leap of faith.  But already I am encouraged by what I have learnt and experienced from the lives of inspiring people who fill me with hope and determination to persist, whatever happens, in learning the Christian way of living.

© John Allen 2021

 14 February 2021 - Sunday before Lent


Some fortunate people have a strong feeling that God is with them, wherever they are and whatever their present situation.  This gives them inner peace and contentment and courage to deal with whatever they have to cope with.

But so many people don’t seem to experience this.  It seems that God, even if he exists, has abandoned them and deep down they feel so alone.  I do not believe this is true.  When we are born, we are entrusted with the life that comes from God and this life is filled with his loving presence.  Every human being is related to God but because he gives to each one the freedom to respond to his love or ignore and reject it, he remains hidden deep within us, patiently waiting for our love and trust.

I think this why we get so agitated about losing things or losing our way.  Most of us continually lose things – keys, purse, an address or telephone number.  Where did I put it?  Where is it?  Jesus told a story about a woman who had lost a precious coin.  She turned the house upside down till she found it.  And when she did she celebrated, “Rejoice with me for I have found the coin that was lost”.  Jesus told this story to illustrate that in fact God is always with us but we have allowed him to be buried under the clutter and distractions of daily life.  Instead of frantic rummaging, we need to be still and wait, and then we shall know that God is with us all the time, but we were simply burying him from sight with our self-centred preoccupations.

God speaks to us in these words from Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God”.  Too often we seem to be running away.  Once we let the panic drain away we realise it’s all right: “Surely the Lord is in this place and I had not realised it.”

Whatever your situation, all you have to do is to let go of your worries, and let God in, and all shall be well.

© John Allen 2021

7 February 2021 - Second Sunday before Lent


When you have had a bad day a friend might advise “Go to bed.  Sleep on it”.  When you wake up and gradually come to yourself you remember the situation you are in.  You are about to start a new job; you have just got married; or you have been told that the injuries you have sustained in a recent accident are life changing.  Every new day brings opportunities and problems large or small.  Before your feet touch the floor, you need to have the resolution to deal creatively with what lies ahead.

Planning is important.  It means you can be in control of your life.  You are not the victim.  You are the pilot.  The way ahead may be challenging but you have the capacity to deal with it.  This is common sense but sometimes it takes a good friend to jolt us back into the best course of action.  Planning, sound principles and a degree of flexibility help us to steer a good course.

I am sure you would agree that this applies to most areas of our lives, but I wonder if there is one part of your life which you leave to chance?  Your spirituality?  Sometimes it seems intangible and when it comes to religion you prefer to keep your options open.  But I would suggest this is the one part of your life which will outlive you.  Career, marriage, wealth, success or failure are of vital concern now but when it comes to our dying will make no difference.  The one thing you are left with is your immortal destiny.  Does the way ahead simply finish with a Dead End – or is there something else?

A person’s spirituality is the one aspect of our existence which bridges this life on earth and the next.  It is your spirituality which connects you to your immortality.  It seems we are each born with the capacity for life after death and that our present existence is a schooling, a preparation for the next.  This is the possibility entrusted to us but each one of us can deny this or ignore it refusing to take it seriously.  This is what God has prepared for us, but I do not believe he will force it on us, but those who have faith can take hold of that which is life indeed.

This is to take faith to its logical conclusion and to let go of faithlessness and to reach out to eternal life drawing us into closer unity and love with God and   this is why the gift and potentiality of spirituality is the most vital part of our existence.  We owe it to ourselves to be wise to what each new day may bring and to live, accordingly.  We can do all things  and it is Jesus Christ who makes this possible.

© John Allen 2021

31 January 2021 - Candlemas


It seems that spiritual awareness needs its own language, stories, pictures and metaphors.  These will vary according to the place, culture and environment in which people live.  This has brought about the array of world religions and their offshoots.  It also confuses us.

Spirituality calls for our conviction and loyalty.  So good and sincere people think their religion is the right one and other religions are false and to be resisted.  Is there one God as Jews, Muslims and Christians believe?  Or are there many gods?  The blight on religion has been the war between the religions or quarrels between believers.  I think this is why so many people think that religion causes so much harm and become atheists, agnostics, humanists and hedonists.  In a secularised world many prefer that religion should be sidelined.

As a result there is a serious spiritual deficit.  People’s lives are lacking a spiritual expression, and this diminishes their natural wellbeing.  I think that common sense teaches us that our lives can only be happy and fulfilled if we readily accept the whole width and depth of our natural being and strive to live to our full potential.  We are entrusted with minds to think with and bodies to excel; and with a latent spirituality.  I believe that the urgent problem to address is the gross neglect of this latter capacity.

It is no longer acceptable to label a person as disabled.  Whatever state you find yourself in you have the capability to excel in your own particular way.  To do this you need to become aware and to make full use of the capabilities with which you have been entrusted.  Over a lifetime I have come to discover the happiness and resourcefulness that wells up within me because I strive to live my life in a spiritual way.

This is simply to live at ease with myself, in love and friendship with other people and in a deep life transforming friendship with God.  This has, I am sure, not made me an other-worldly and out of touch person but to be world embracing and fully alive, here today, and enthusiastic to journey into the future.

© John Allen 2021

24 January 2021 - Epiphany 3


We can never start with a blank page.  We cannot remember our birth and may not be conscious of our death.  It is in the “In Between” bit over which we have some control, and that importantly includes the spiritual dimension of our lives.

I suggest that each person has this spiritual dimension, even if they do not think of themselves as religious.  Among the aspects of our lives which are disturbing, insistent and life changing, we discover our sexuality and our spirituality.  We deny either at our peril.  To live a whole and healthy and happy life, each of these aspects need our acceptance and our crafting.  On how we do this depends our wellbeing and our positive contribution – our blessing – to those with whom we come in contact.

In my experience, spirituality is that something deep within me which is a personal and loving presence which I have come to call God.  It is an integral part of who I am.  It is my spirit and I instinctively reach out to that spirit within other people.  It is this that draws from me a capacity for empathy.  I feel bonded with people who share this spiritual awareness.  It is spirituality which inspires vision and enterprise and the energy and resilience to strive and work for a better world.

This kind of experience has filled the lives of people from all over the world all through human history.  In has found expression in many different cultures.  It is not the possession of one particular religion to the exclusion of others.  My personal experience came to me when I happened to be a boy growing up in a Hampshire town during the Second World War.  As a rather solitary child, I was brought up by a strict but loving aunt.  I was not allowed to bring other children into the house, so I developed a capacity to think quite deeply, while my peers were more preoccupied with games.  I suppose my family were Christian in a vague kind of way.  My mother taught me some childish prayers.  I was given a book with stories from the Bible.  I joined the children’s choir in the local church just because a friend suggested it.  The words of the service made little impression.  But all this was leaving markers in my memory.  My understanding was not a blank page but filling up with disconnected pictures and ideas.

A connection was essential.  People talk of seeing the light – of a moment or process of conversion – of a blurred picture coming into focus.  For me this was brought about by one person coming into my life and helping me to make sense of the writing on the blank page of my life.

© John Allen 2021

17 January 2021 - Epiphany 2


What is a story?  Is it fact or fiction?  Is a story an escape from reality or a way of comprehending reality?  Most people have always loved stories.  They may not regard them as literal truth, but stories have furnished their minds and helped shape their own direction in life.  The important values and principles which guide our lives are difficult to put into words, but can be more vividly expressed in story form.

The way of thinking, which is called Theology – talking about God, needs to be expressed in story form for it is always personal and calls us into a relationship and most of us find it difficult to have a relationship with an abstraction.  While an awareness of God is part of the essential essence of what it means to be human and we each have our own unique individual intuition of God, we need reassurance that we are not deluding ourselves with childish stories.

We need our experience to be checked out and verified and compared with the tried and tested experience of millions of others down the centuries.  We have this resource in Scripture and in the faith and practice of other believers.  I find this in the Bible and in the teaching and way of life commended in the church.  For me it was subsequently confirmed and deepened in my training for ministry as a parish priest in the Church of England and my life and work ever since has felt authentic and effective.

It seems to me that it is through the reflective and spiritual capacity with which each one of us is born that we can begin to make sense of our lives and find the best way to live.  We need a map and a guidebook.  Theology provides this in the form of a story which enthuses and illuminates us.  It is the story of God’s relationship with you and how you respond and where you choose to go.

The story begins with God and His creation – this planet, the cosmos, infinite existence.  God is not distant and aloof but has created human beings with the capacity to respond to His love and to accept His offer of an intimate relationship between humanity and God.  This is both a cosmic story and also your story and my story.  Every day is a page of that story.  Day by day we set out on our journey and we are not alone.  God travels with us.

© John Allen 2021

10 January 2021 - The Baptism of Christ


To make sense of life, it helps us to picture life as a story.  We each live our own particular story.  It has a beginning, a gathering momentum every day, a dawning sense of purpose and a final destination.  I think we love stories because the story, our story, gives meaning to life on this planet, which is such a contrasting mix of pleasure and pain and of joy and sorrow.

I think this is why some people discover a need to keep a record of life in a notebook, diary or journal.  Such an intimate record can be a solace, even a friend with whom we can share the real truth.  But, with all the demands of daily existence, this takes up time and can seem like a chore and we need self discipline to stick to it.  But we can be burdened by our past which often feels confused and unresolved.  I have found that, in writing a daily journal, I can let go of the past.

But the danger in this habit is that it can encourage us to be too introspective and self centred.  I hope I have escaped this by regarding my journal as a conversation, a sharing of my life with God.  I can only write about what I know.  I can only begin each new day from the place and situation in which I find myself.  And I can only talk to God if I fix my attention and let God talk to me.

When it comes to faith, it is not what I have been taught about God, but what I know of God.  A personal journal is the record of a unique and direct experience of myself, not about what other people might think about me.

Knowledge of God begins with this kind of unmediated experience.  God has entered into the lives of individual people.  Such fortunate people have shared this experience with others by word of mouth.  Others have listened and tried to understand and passed this on and written it down.  This is the bedrock of the Bible and of the scriptures of faith.  For centuries, people have read and listened and thought and prayed as we do today.  This is talking about God.  It is sometimes called THEOLOGY.

Theology is conversation.  It has generated many books, much teaching, a long tradition of a Christian way of thinking and living.  The first-hand knowing of God has been explained, interpreted and re-interpreted, so now theology contains much human thinking that needs to be sifted till we again find God at the heart of it all.  We must again dare to talk about God.

© John Allen 2021

20 December 2020 - Advent 4


People, like myself, who think they believe in God need to sort out in their minds what this really means.  Is it something you were brought up with?  Was it a gradual dawning awareness?  Or did it come out of the blue?  Does it make much difference to your way of living?

Half hearted believers are not very convincing.  To others it can seem a fad.  People are aware that only a small minority go to church to take part in worship.  Some churches give the impression of being half hearted.

But sometimes you may encounter someone who is wholehearted, not in a threatening way, but in a way that is attractive. Here is a person who really seems to be happy and who is friendly and interested in you.  This is someone who looks directly at you and smiles and with whom you feel surprisingly comfortable.  You tell a friend, “There was something special about him”.  You confide to another friend, “I felt I could really trust her.  I felt so much better in her presence”.

You join a club because you like the members.  You join an organization because you come to believe in the values they promote.  But you may not feel yourself to be a clubbable person.  So it is that some people who are coming to believe in God do not feel that they want to go to church and remember hearing well meaning people saying, “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian”.

And you may have a nagging little voice in your mind asking, “Are you really sure?  Are you just deluding yourself?  How can you be certain that there really is a God?”

I have always puzzled about which came first.  Did God come into my life out of the blue or was I first conditioned by the stories I had been told about God.?  Depending on our early upbringing or later encounters, I suppose there is a certain subliminal element.  Religious experience requires stories to make sense of what would otherwise be beyond the normal limits of human comprehension.  This is the language of Faith.

So we come back to Revelation.  The human experience is that God comes into the life of each single individual who will let him.  This experience is conveyed through stories and the core of it is to be found in the Bible.  As we interpret these stories they begin to become our personal story.

© John Allen 2020