Love is the meaning ...

A blog by Rev'd John Allen


25 April 2021 – Easter 4


I am convinced that each one of us, if we are to live a fulfilled and useful life, has to be open to his or her personal spirituality.  To do this we need to have a mental and emotional map in our minds.  How can I make sense of the way I think and feel?  How can I find a way to live?

If I wake up and pay attention, a map is given to me.  Who gives me the map?  It is given to me by other people who like myself have opened themselves to the spiritual dimension.  A map does not dictate the way I should go but assists me in choosing the route which seems natural for me.

Religious awareness is usually personal and subjective in the first place but drew me out of myself to find others who could explain, encourage and teach me.  In my case, I found myself in my local Anglican parish church.  I heard the Bible stories and listened to the teaching.  I was encouraged by a friendly priest.  I enjoyed entering into a welcoming community of believers sharing in the worship of God.  I attended instruction classes.

Those who tend to be on the defensive against religion might have feared I was being “got at”.  We are all too aware of the dangers of anything that seems like indoctrination and of vulnerable young minds being “radicalised”.  Certainly the Anglican church is nothing like that.  I never once felt pressurised.  I felt supported.  It was always left it to me to make the next move and to become more committed.  I was taught to think for myself and to question everything.

The Bible with all its vivid stories so often seemed to echo my personal experience and I found in certain of them a kind of familiarity in which I felt at home.  I was taught that like all writing it needed to be explored, thought about, interpreted and applied to my life in its present situation.  The Bible provides the core of what God reveals and what God is asking.  The Church has collated this and compiled a coherent Faith which each generation re-works and re-applies.  But none of this would be acceptable without my first having, and continuing to have, my own personal friendship with God.

God comes into each person’s life and we each respond in our own way but because we are people who need words and stories by which to begin to get a glimpse of God, we need to live within a religious geography – and we need a theological and spiritual map.  For a map to be of use it needs to be a local map in which we can find the place we are at this moment and then to start on our journey.  Later we shall need to compare our map with other people’s.

© John Allen 2021

18 April 2021 – Easter 3


In my experience, there are certain key words that shape the way I live.  Top of the list are Yes and No.  My aim is to live a “Yes-shaped life”.  But there is a fearful risk.  Everything depends on who it is to whom I am saying Yes.  When you say Yes, you make yourself dangerously vulnerable.  You open your life.  So I ask myself, “To what am I opening my life”? Is it to goodness and love, or to evil and exploitation”?

From an early age, we become aware of ourselves as living in a space in which we are torn in opposite and conflicting directions either towards that which is good or that which is wrong, that which is true or that which is false.  Of course, it is not quite that simple.  Between the white and the black, there are many merging colours, so that life seems to be lived in an unhappy twilight.

Who is it who is influencing us?  Our parents, our peer group, our role models, those whom we love, trust and respect; but like us they are fragile and fallible people.  I, and many people like me, are aware that is it is God who is asking.  We live together in a moral twilight and need the help and guidance of one another.

But from an early age we know something called temptation.  A rebellious child responds to the friend who taunts, “I dare you”.  We are tempted to do what we are told is wrong and to hell with consequences.  We come to discover that daily life is a battleground between right and wrong, good and evil.  This is not just the influence of some kind of ethical brainwashing.  It is a psychological reality.

Everyone has to make a choice – Yes or No.  For the person who has faith, the Yes is addressed to God and, for the humanist, the Yes is made to the world.  To answer No is to open our world to the malignancy of evil.

With God’s love and help, I strive to live my life as a Yes to God and with all my strength I live my life as a No to evil, hatred and destruction.

© John Allen 2021

4 April 2021 - Easter Sunday


It is incredibly simple.  If you keep faith, friendship and love flourish.   If you take good care of the world which is entrusted to you, the world rewards you with its rich bounty.  God’s creation is one of order and, if we live within and according to this good order, creation continues to be life giving.

This is not because God is a dictator who enforces obedience and punishes disobedience.  It is the nature of God who is Love.  If God is the source and sustaining power of all existence, this is the ultimate reality into which we have been born.  The word obedience does not denote a cowed servility but a response of loving faithfulness.  We do not love God out of enforced compulsion but gladly and willingly.  As God loves us so much, we love Him with joy and with all that we are.  At least this is the possibility, but all too often we are undermined by moral frailty.

The heart of the problem is God’s gift of freedom.  We are not serfs or automatons.  We are born free.  God is love and His creation is the expression of His overflowing love that He has endowed on us.  This gives us the capacity to love God as He loves us.  The tragedy of human history is the tendency for people to deflect this natural desire to love, from God, to themselves.  The direction of human life has been hi-jacked from God to ourselves.  We were born to live God-centred lives but for much of the time we live self-centred lives.  In much prevailing human consciousness, God has been pushed to one side: ignored, forgotten and even denied.

The Bible is not religious propaganda but a frank acknowledgement of people’s betrayal of God.  The precious gift of life has been entrusted to us by God.  To live this life of fulfilment, joy and eternal bliss is our natural and happy destiny so that all life is a peal of praise to God.  Instead, people have turned their backs on God and substituted false gods.  In ancient times, these were idols.  Today our false gods are self-centred hedonism.  We each tend to say, “I will please myself and go my own way”.

But this is not how a world created by God’s love works.  Selfishness, disobedience of God leads to the terrible malfunctioning of His world and results in war, cruelty, injustice, poverty and misery.  Despite what so many people suggest, this is not God’s anger and punishment.  It is what happens when love and truth are denied.  Human disobedience opens the jaws of hell.  We are powerless to help ourselves simply because there is one simple affirmative word we cannot bring ourselves to utter - YES.  Yes to God.  Not my way but God’s.  This is what religious faith is all about.

© John Allen 2021

28 March 2021 - Palm Sunday


I believe that trust is essential if we are to live in a secure and happy way.  New-born babies depend on those who nurture them and so most children grow up to be naturally trusting.  This is the gift of childhood innocence.  It is horrible when it is abused.

The tragedy of human life in this world is that all too soon children have to be taught to become “street-wise”.  While society cannot function without mutual trust, we discover than we cannot always rely on other people all the time and so we have to live guarded lives.  Trust depends on keeping a two way contract with other people.  I trust you and you trust me.  When people live like this things work well.

Christians have faith that God is love and his love is expressed in the existence He has created.  The Bible story states, “God saw all that He had created and it was very good”.  “God is love”, so the world He has created reflects and transmits His essential goodness.  So why is it that this good world is confounded, distorted and torn into tortured shreds by a force of evil which is the total contradiction of God’s creation?  Does it mean that the faith of people who believe and trust in God’s supposed goodness is deluded ?  Does it mean that what we call God is not the only source of power and that there is an opposing power of evil?  If this were true it would explain the dualism which seems apparent in the actions of people all through human history.  Each one of us knows that in a strange way we seem to be at war within ourselves, as we wrestle between what seems right and what seems wrong.

But surely an existence which is the outpouring of God’s love would be meaningless unless it had the gift of freedom at its core.  God’s love is His trust to every single person ever born.  Each one of us has to answer this with our trust in God and to each other.  Incredibly God trusts me and I have to trust God.  When we live like this, God’s good creation works as God intends and evil is overcome and transformed by sheer goodness.

It seems that wrong is the dire result of a betrayal of trust, when people fail to keep faith.  But we are all so weak.  We need help and God sends Jesus Christ who is faithful, trustworthy and utterly faithful.

Religious faith is a school in which we learn to be faithful, through the love and strength of Jesus Christ bestowed on each one of us who willingly welcomes Him into the centre of our lives.

© John Allen 2021

21 March 2021 – Passion Sunday


The nature of a healthy child is to be bursting with boundless energy.  This is the energy that is entrusted to each of us at birth.  People of faith believe it is one of the essential gifts which we receive from God.  We are called to share in the energy of God.

Parents of energetic young children discover that this can be both a blessing and a liability.  Energy can be incredibly creative but also horribly destructive.  A joyous gift is also a solemn responsibility.  God’s energy entrusted to us must be used well for the making of a better world.  The stark alternative is that God is betrayed and energy is stolen from God and misappropriated for selfish ends.  Energy is at work in our world today, but the tragedy is that so much is expended for purposes of power and aggression.  Our opportunity is for us to use this energy in the fulfilling of God’s loving purpose in this world.

To do this we need God’s help.  Energy points us and propels us towards the towering peaks on the horizon.  With God’s help ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things.  I have always been inspired by these words from the Bible, “The eternal God, creator of earth’s farthest bounds does not weary or grow faint.  He gives vigour to the weary, new strength to the exhausted.  Young men may grow weary and faint, even the fittest may stumble and fall; but those who look to the Lord will win new strength, they will soar as on eagles’ wings; they will run and not feel faint, march on and not grow weary.”

But people who wish to use this energy well sometimes begin to feel discouraged and over-burdened.  The problems of our world seem to be intransigent.  Good well-meaning people can be overcome by a kind of moral lassitude.  Resignation and apathy can set in.  We can allow ourselves simply to tick over and abrogate our responsibility.  Sometimes it might seem that the church today is simply content to tread water.

I know what is like to grow old and feel tired, but God keeps nudging me.  For a Christian there is no such thing as spiritual old age.  God’s continuing gift of energy lasts all through old age and urges me on into the future where the best is yet to be.

© John Allen 2021

14 March 2021 - Mothering Sunday


We cannot comprehend all that exists.  It seems that existence is infinite, but our minds are finite.  What we are beginning to understand is that each individual is a unique person and is naturally drawn into relationship with other people and that the bond is love.

Love alone animates existence.  Without love, life would be bleak and mechanistic.  There can be no love without One to love.  Without love there could be no existence.  It surely cannot be that existence is nothing more than a cosmic accident, a capricious and meaningless chain of events which have evolved into the creative and joyous beauty of creation.

Life as we know it and live it is personal.  We need to receive and we need to give.  The giving must always be of our personal free will.  The giving is always costly.  I give something of myself for the wellbeing of the one I love.

When we grieve about the state of our world of conflict and the continual pain and suffering of millions of people we may be tempted to ask, “If God is the source of all this, why did He bother?  Is God’s creation God’s greatest mistake?”  People’s understandable response to tragedy is to ask, “If God really exists, why does He allow all this misery and suffering?”

I have struggled with these questions all my life.  It seems to me that the meaning of it all is the word Love.  Love is a very risky word.  To love you have to let go of yourself and to allow yourself to become vulnerable.  Your love may be abused and distorted.  But without love none of us would exist.

I used to have a childish daydream.  I imagined God discussing with His angels His plan to create the world and to give people complete freedom.  And the angels questioning whether this was a good idea and God saying that when you love you have to take the risk.  After all marriage, partnership and parenthood are all risky.  God said to the angels, “I had no other choice”.

Existence is bound to be risky.  Left to ourselves, we are tending to make parts of the world like hell though, wonderfully and incredibly, we also get glimpses of heaven even now.

The heart of Christian Faith is that God has not left us alone to deal with the mess.  God is here now as Jesus Christ right in the middle of every human heartbreak.

© John Allen 2021

7 March 2021 - Lent 3


Each one of us seems only capable of living within our own personal limits within a limitless existence.  You may be standing in a flat landscape and you look towards a distant range of hills.  These hills are your boundary.  It may not seem to matter what happens on the other side.  That is nothing to do with you or so you think.  This is not true.  We seem to be born with a compelling urge to explore those hills to get a glimpse of what lies beyond.  Surely this may be why we are given life.  This is our inheritance and this is our destiny.

What we do know is our need to be loved and our desire to learn how to love.  It is love that unlocks our lives and enables us to live lives of overflowing generosity.  It liberates us from the prison of selfishness and sets us free to reach out beyond our present limitations.  The profound mystery of love seems to be at the heart of existence and reality.  It is the energy which is the power source of all creation.

Gazing up to the stars, we are daunted by the idea of infinity and may feel reduced and overwhelmed.  And yet, if the energy which alone makes it all possible is love, then we are reassured, because love is always personal.  It all exists because of the One who is at the heart of existence and this One is God who invites us into a personal and mutually loving friendship.

Love is an energy which cannot be confined.  It overflows.  It is life giving.  But most wonderful of all it is personal.  It has resulted in God’s creation of existence and in the birth of individual human beings who also are each distinctly personal and so have the capacity for friendship with God who made them.

The Christian Faith affirms that all that exists is God’s creation.  God is personal and wishes to enter into a personal and loving relationship with every person who is born.  The opening words of the Bible are “in the beginning God created”.

This is our starting point.

© John Allen 2021

28 February 2021 - Lent 2


It seems that what most dominated the lives of our ancestors was the fight for survival.  They needed food and they needed to hunt risking their lives in the process.  Other creatures preyed on them.  They had to defend themselves and this meant conflict.  Twenty-first century life may seem less stark; it is certainly more complex, but the situation is basically the same.

Every person comes to realise that the world into which they have been born is both wonderful and horrible.  There is so much promise of delight overshadowed by menace and danger.  Life in this planet seems to be an unending struggle between good and evil and can our planet sustain us much longer?

As we come to realise this, we feel the need to turn to someone else.  We need to be saved.  We need to be sustained and protected.  We need to be enabled to be resourceful.  We need something good to which we can reach out with conviction and hope.  Life seems to be a journey and we need to have a goal in sight.

There is a human instinct to find a god, a faith of one sort or the other which will protect, guide and inspire us.  People without any kind of religion are on their own, lost and vulnerable to mere chance.  The history of our world is strewn with religions, ideology, philosophy or prevailing social theories.  People take their pick, and weave in and out of the tangle of human thought, or simply allow themselves to be one more among the mass of people who are resigned and tick the “don’t know” box.

The Christian Faith provides the rescue which is unique.  It reveals that God who is out of this world is also in the heart of this world and is known to us in the life of Jesus Christ.  There is this gigantic leap from spiritual reality to physical reality.  It is mind blowing and, to be honest, incomprehensible.  Jesus faced head on the conflict which holds this world in its grip – good and evil; hope and despair; love and hate; life and death.

There are two key stories in the Bible which epitomise the religious reality of this rescue   There is the liberation of God’s people from slavery in Egypt and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the event which gathers up and embraces the future direction of this world’s history and alone can rescue and transform the life of each individual who has the faith and courage to accept it.

© John Allen 2021