The energy of a centre for prayer comes from a listening ear, an obedient heart, and a driving passion to rediscover daily what it means to be friends with God and to help others who cross our threshold to do the same. Over the past five years, since our launch, this has been our constant focus.
Based uniquely in an Anglican theological college, the Simeon Centre for Prayer and the Spiritual Life has had a fourfold role:
1. in caring for the personal and spiritual formation of the Ridley Hall community. This is a ministry gladly undertaken by all, students and staff, for each other. Discipleship is the responsibility of all, and the Centre is the catalyst for this work.
2. in the academic teaching of spirituality and prayer within the Cambridge Theological Federation, and more widely. Undergraduate modules, dissertation and thesis supervision, invitational events and periodic conferences all contribute towards this part of our ministry.
3. in resourcing the wider church through offering spiritual direction, particularly to church leaders; through responding to requests for training and consultancy; and by leading, chaplaining and speaking at conferences, retreats and other events.
4. in working with others across a range of networks, raising the profile of Christian perspectives in the public square and in the churches. Two years ago, we held a conference on ‘Dying Well’. More recently, we have been working with partner organizations and individuals on marriage, singleness and gender imbalance in our churches; on the ethics of human enhancement; on men’s spirituality; and next year (28th June 2013) we plan a day conference on Spirituality and Dementia.
The last item hints at the underlying questions which will remain at the heart of our vocation and our spiritual quest. We are creaturely beings, made in the image and likeness of a sovereign God, who calls us in love to stand before his majesty, to sit and feast with him, and to work towards the coming of his Kingdom.
In order to do this faithfully and well, we need to understand and engage with what it means to be human. In our contemporary contexts, how do we balance our understanding of disability with our hunger for drug and genetic enhancement? How, too, can we learn to value individuals as they are, while believing that God longs for them to be redeemed, more fulfilled in themselves and in life, and complete in Christ? And in relation to the way in which we do church, can we resist the temptation to gather like with like, so that the diversity and complexity of God’s created order is not compromised?
Strangely, then, we have found ourselves – as a Centre for Prayer – spending much time in busy thought (or doing theology!), reflecting on our humanity, believing that it is when we know ourselves fully as we are known by God, the relationship that we enjoy with him is restored, strengthened and nurtured.
To be human in a proper sense is, first and foremost, about gift, the gift of life, if you will. We believe that life is given by God who breathes life into us; and we are born again – redeemed – through the self-giving son of God. As inheritors of the Kingdom of heaven, we are given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee, another kind of gift. Even the worlds that we inhabit are gifted to us for our care and stewardship.
Solidarity comes a close second. There are as many theories about being made in God’s image and likeness as there are theologians, but my take on it depends on the implicit ‘we’ in Genesis 1. The nature of God is not plural but relational. The three persons of the one God dwell in mutual love, harmony and interdependent purpose. And it is ‘we’ who are made in that image, and reflect it in community, in relationship with one another, only fully as ‘one people’, only in mutuality and sharing.
It naturally flows from this that the virtues proper to being human, apart from the cardinal virtue of love, are those of companionship, hospitality, compassion, humility, vulnerability and reconciliation. If we live life in gratitude for its giftedness and in communion with one another, all relationships flourish, most notably our relationship with God. And since prayer is not a task, a duty or a work, but the language of a primary relationship, our praying will find its tongue when we are true to our common humanity under God.