Making Christ's Love known to All

Love is the meaning ...

A blog by Rev'd John Allen

  


24 January 2021 - Epiphany 3

A BLANK PAGE?

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

OUR STORY

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

DARE TO TALK ABOUT GOD

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

YOUR STORY?

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

Archived blog posts

4 October - 13 December 2020