Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Simeon Centre and its vision

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.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Amos 4: A mini-Bible study

For busy lives, here's something you can do in five minutes. If you do, may it bless your whole day. At the end of Amos 4, the prophet says of God:

For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind,
   reveals his thoughts to mortals,
makes the morning darkness,
   and treads on the heights of the earth—
   the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name! 

There are three remarkable things to note:
  1.  Amos, like all the eighth-century prophets, has woken up to a much bigger vision of God than the one in circulation. He paints a picture of a majestic, all-powerful, terrifying yet immensely appealing God. This God is no wimp. Our God is an awesome God! Imagine him treading on the heights of the earth, dancing across the Alps, standing over the Himalayas!
  2. Remarkably, this God communicates with us, revealing his thoughts to mortals! This is not what we expect to hear in the middle of this spectacular picture. It doesn't cut God down to size. Rather, it causes us who know and love this God to lift up our heads, and almost to bask in his glory. He has chosen to share the mystery of his plan with us, as Paul makes clear in Ephesians.
  3. We all know that names matter. God's name is no idle giving of a title. This God is the Lord of hosts, the Lord of heavenly armies. This is no pacific God, but a jealous, a zealous God who is so troubled by his people's unfaithfulness and neglect that he goes to war. The unpopular flipside of God's love, his wrath, which is the major theme of this prophet's speaking, must never be neglected if we are to relate to God as he really is.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Why must cyclists take drugs? What's the fun in that?

I don't often get very angry, and Lance Armstrong's alleged involvement in 'the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen' has left me more bemused, disappointed and saddened than angry. After all, when those of us who do sport for the sheer enjoyment of overcoming (in part only) our own limitations, without chemical enhancement, I wonder where Armstrong's enjoyment of the sport, sense of humanity and personal pride went to. Can you win a race and be proud when the drug won, really?

I did get angry, however, when I heard Alex Dowsett's response on the news. The 24 year old British cyclist said that he believed that Lance Armstrong remains 'a legend of the sport' despite the doping accusations against the American.

What's worse, his remarks were made not because he doesn't believe the accusations. And I suspect that those accusations are fairly accurate. The US Drug Authority responsible said that it was as strong a case as any they had ever brought. Dowsett went on to say: 'He is still a legend of the sport. A guy who had cancer came back and won the Tour de France. It's not really important and I really don't think it matters what I think.'

Not important? Not his call? Of course it is. He is being listened to, watched and admired by a whole new generation of budding cyclists in this country, and as a role model he can't be neutral. What is it about this celebrity culture of ours that so craves victory that nothing else matters?

Over the past year, in my feeble 63 year old way, I have enjoyed discovering that I can run, just. 8.5 minute miles are about as much as I can realistically manage. But I have found myself childishly delighted, and running has brought me such joy - no fame though. In running, the bonus has been the discovery that it gives me the quietest and most solitary place in the universe, a place I've been looking for unconsciously for years.

And now, to cap it all, I have a distinct sense that running is a gift that I have to offer God. I can't explain it any better than that, but it has come to me that when I run, I am being truly myself, and that can't but delight God. So, please, please, don't let's allow hubris (overweening pride) to overwhelm us. It is our humanity and our pain that we celebrate when we run the race, not some fictive superhuman image.