From the Sanctuary
As I am sat here in my sanctuary, observing the squirrels running amongst the snowdrops and dwarf cyclamens, I am left reflecting on how limited language is in capturing what I am feeling. My feelings include awe, wonder, gratitude, privilege, blessing… the list could go on – and yet none of those words quite capture the experience.
My pause for reflection comes from just having read through a draft of a student’s chapter for her doctoral thesis, in which she is seeking to research ‘moments of love’ in the therapeutic relationship. I know from a personal, felt-sense of experiencing what she is trying to capture, but it is clear that none of her definitions of ‘love’ quite encapsulate what she is trying to research. How do you define ‘love’? What words can adequately capture it for all occasions – let alone for the purposes of research?
I am often similarly interested when people say that they don’t believe in ‘God’, but yet they can often acknowledge a sense of the spiritual (transcendence, life-living and creative energy, connection with something bigger than ourselves). What is it precisely that they don’t believe in then (?), because those words speak to me of ‘God’. Similarly, when people have a faith in God, what is it precisely that they have a faith in? What does the term ‘believe in’ mean exactly? My experience is that when people of faith and no-faith put these issues under the microscope in mutual conversation, and struggle with definitions, they actually end up having more in common than they have that is different. So, is the limitation of language that which prohibits a belief in God?
In Church, we often think that we have a shared experience of the presence of God, because we all claim to share a Christian faith – but do we have a shared experience? How ‘common’ is common worship? Is faith more personal than shared, I wonder?
These complexities and limitations of language mean that arguing faith matters in a rational, intellectual way can never be done satisfactorily. You can’t win people over to God through an argument – although many theologians have tried. Like observing the squirrels, it becomes meaningful only when one’s heart is open to the presence of awe and wonder of God – and to the presence and spirit of the living Lord. It is a tacit knowing, formed through a heart relationship, rather than through ‘understanding’. To rationalise and intellectualise the experiencing of the observation of the squirrels, takes something of fundamental importance away from what one is trying to capture and communicate. Likewise, to speak of God and faith in a rational, intellectual way, in order to simply try and convince others of its truth, will seldom succeed. Indeed, we may actually achieve the opposite, and drive them away.
Yet, the truth of God is still undeniably present. I can still experience and know the reality of the presence of squirrels, and the presence of God, in my life – more than just what I can see. I know them through a felt-response to what I am experiencing of them both. Similarly, I can still experience and know the reality of another’s love, and my love for another. Their existence is not what is in doubt. Our struggle, then, is in enabling others to experience God for themselves. Only then will their eyes and hearts be truly opened. Christ said, ‘if they have ears, then let them hear’ – but I wonder if what He actually meant was, ‘if they want to know me, let their hearts encounter me’.
There is an old Jewish saying: God could not be everywhere, and therefore He made mothers.
Mother Church, Mother Earth, Mother of the Gods – our human mothers – all of them have been part of the celebration of ‘Mothering Sunday’ – as the fourth Sunday in Lent is affectionately known. It has been celebrated in the UK since at least the 16th century.
In Roman times, great festivals were held every Spring to honour Cybele, Mother of all the Gods. Other pagan festivals in honour of Mother Earth were also celebrated. With the arrival of Christianity, the festival became one honouring Mother Church.
During the Middle Ages, young people apprenticed to craftsmen or working as ‘live-in’ servants were allowed only one holiday a year on which to visit their families – which is how ‘Mothering Sunday’ got its name. This special day became a day of family rejoicing, and the Lenten fast was broken. In some places the day was called Simnel Day, because of the sweet cakes called simnel cakes traditionally eaten on that day.
In recent years the holiday has changed and in many ways now resembles the American Mother’s Day, with families going out to Sunday lunch and generally making a fuss of their mother on the day.
Come along and celebrate Mothering Sunday on the 22nd of this month.