|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Of all the critiques of the Ten Commandments I have encountered, it was that of a twelve old girl which was most powerful and poignant. This was many years ago, during a confirmation class I was running. We had looked at various aspects of Christian Faith and were exploring its living out. The Ten Commandments were an obvious element for reflection in this, especially as, like many English churches, they were displayed prominently, alongside the Apostles Creed, on either side of the altar (communion table) in our village church. Typically, they did not evoke much reaction from young people seeking to be confirmed: either because many of the components (such as ‘do not murder’) were fairly easily agreed, or, most often, because confirmands were shy about entering into religious debate with older people. There are ways of changing that, and perhaps today younger people may be more self-assertive, but in general my experience is that confirmation classes can sometimes be hard going for all concerned! Consider my surprise then, when this twelve year old girl, who, even in other contexts, hardly ever said a word in public, suddenly launched an outburst, full of both vehemence and reason. ‘This is shocking, and abusive’, she said, ‘how can this be in the Bible? I cannot accept it.’ Her protest was about a number of things but especially the fifth commandment: ‘honour your father and your mother’. ‘How on earth can I do that?’, she said, ‘when my father so mistreated my mother and left myself and my family when I was so tiny’…
As I have lived most of my church life primarily in Anglican and ecumenical settings, I have to admit to some bemusement about the annual marking of the Uniting Church’s founding. I guess it is partly the equivalent of the patronal festivals in other mainstream Churches. However these typically centre on a particular saint, or an aspect of faith (such as the Holy Trinity), after which a particular congregation is named, not a particular Christian denomination. Denominationalism is, after all, a modern idea, and would be a horror to our Uniting Church Reformation forebears. Jean Calvin, for example, sought to reform the one universal Church of God, not to create an alternative. The great Methodist pioneer John Wesley also formed a vital and innovative new movement but never sought to leave the Church of England. That is pertinent in marking this anniversary. For it directs us back to the Uniting Church’s crucial ecumenical and ‘open future’ charisms. These are clear in The Basis of Union, the key Uniting Church founding document. As a body, we are only one very small part of the universal Church through time and space. Therefore, rather than being yet one more denomination, we are called to help pioneer new paths of faith and relationships. Our calling is always to be a Uniting Church, holding our structures lightly and open to new ways of being followers of Jesus with others. So how what might today’s story about Hagar say to us in that? For it is certainly a powerful challenge...
This question shows my age, but do some of us remember when the Holy Spirit was typically known as ‘the Holy Ghost’? How words change. For ‘Holy Ghost’ used to be very traditional. ‘Ghost’ indeed derives from the Old English word gast. It means ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’, and is the equivalent of the Latin word spiritus. Similar words are found in other Germanic influenced languages, such as geest in Dutch and geist in German (from which we also have the influential compound word Zeitgeist’, meaning spirit of the time, or generation). Today however, most people would relate the word ‘ghost’ to something that goes bump in the night, or something very insubstantial. So, in recent decades, Christians have made a shift from ‘Holy Ghost’ to ‘Holy Spirit’. In doing so, we have rediscovered much of what ‘Holy Ghost’ used to represent in centuries past, and have also encountered that mystery afresh. Yet do ghostly perspectives of the Holy Spirit still limit our own lives and understandings, and certainly many aspects of wider Christian Faith?...
How do we picture transfiguration? Do you like the transfiguration mandala of Jack Haas for example? It is better than many as a prompt for reflection today. For the story, symbol, and spirituality of Christian transfiguration is rich and profound. Yet it can be a puzzle and portrayed in very limited dimensions, and can then seem quite distant to some of us. Let me therefore offer four pathways into the reality and meaning of Christ’s Transfiguration: four pathways on the model of the spirituality wheel of which Penny Jones spoke to us a few months ago, and to our Ministers Retreat this week. For transfiguration, as Jack Haas suggests, is like a biblical mandala, of enriching colour and creativity for our lives: a kaleidoscope revealing divine transforming love…