|Pen and Ink Reflections||
If I were choosing the books which have most shaped and inspired my life, then very high on that list would be Janet Morley’s All Desires Known. Originally published in England in 1988 by the Movement for the Ordination of Women, and Women in Theology, it remains not only as an evocative expression of the Christian feminism which shaped so much of my early adult and ministerial life, which I also shared in with my wife Penny, and which, in many ways (together with other aspects of faith, and football) saved my life. Like Janet Morley’s earlier book Celebrating Women, co-edited with Hannah Ward, it also represents a landmark in the development of new life-giving language and imagery for God. For All Desires Known is a book of prayers for public and private worship, and it was formed out of the experience of an intentional community, the St Hilda Community, which specifically sought ‘to receive the broader vision of our Christian heritage and women’s spiritual offerings in language which excludes no person and no image of God’: a ‘non-sexist’ community, giving ‘full space and authority to women, without apology, secrecy, or shame.’ It is good to recall this today, in the wake of International Women’s Day this week, and as we hear the subversive, and in some ways shocking, Gospel story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. For exploring life-giving language and imagery for God and prayer remains an invitation to us all. Like the woman at the well, we too seek living water, and the source which can quench our thirst: our profound, existential desire for life in all its fullness.
Almost a hundred years ago, a notable book of English Modernist theological essays was published. One leading conservative voiced a classic critique. The book, he said, was a typical example of liberals thinking less about God and far too much about a secular audience. Liberals, he alleged, are constantly asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ – Jones being the name for the supposed average person in the street. The response from the editor of the book was swift. ‘I am not asking what Jones will swallow’, he retorted, ‘I am Jones themselves, asking what there is to eat.’ For there is a big difference, isn’t there? The idea of asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ is undoubtedly a conservative prejudgment of liberal intentions. Yet it can be one unfortunate dynamic in faith circles, sadly leading down the path of reductionism and beyond. Asking ‘what is there to eat?’ is a much more radical and open question, possibly leading even to revisiting aspects of diets left aside in the past. For a self-confessed ‘progressive’ church like Pitt Street Uniting Church, it is certainly a question which needs to be at the heart of our healthy spiritual pathways. After all, as the missionary theologian D.T. Niles once memorably said, sharing the Good News is essentially about ‘one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.’ So what does this food look like today? And what does our reading this morning from John’s Gospel have to say? For John chapter 6 is a lengthy excursus on the bread of life, and how it may be found, or not. What challenges, and opportunities, does this raise for us, as individuals, and as a community together, at this stage in our development?...
I have always loved the story of the woman at the well, which has so many layers of interpretation. We have diverted from the lectionary today, so that we can look at it in association with Corinne Ware’s work on the Spirituality Wheel – a tool that helps us better understand our preferred forms of spirituality, and how these can aid or hinder our encounter with the divine. We will come back to this slide in our faith education session later this morning. For now, just notice that we have four main ways of approaching our spiritual life, through our head, our heart, our soul and our community. We will each tend to favour one of these over the others. Some lend themselves to a theology of transcendence, some to one of immanence. Some lean towards outward expression, some more to internal. Each produces different kinds of liturgical approach and different preferences for personal prayer. All of them will be present in a good liturgy or a good story. Today’s story, like all good stories, offers entry points for all of us, as we play with it in different ways and allow different aspects to reveal themselves...