A time comes when life is no longer about what we will achieve but what have done with our achievements.
Harold Kushner wrote a series of reflections on the experience of the Gatherer. He compares them to a point in our life when we move from asking: ‘what is the meaning of my life’ to ‘what will my life have meant’?
We might call this mid-life or the Second Journey but it comes with a haunting question:
Was there something else I was meant to do with my life whilst I was living it?
If you have read this series I hope you will feel that I am a fan of Ecclesiastes. I discovered the book when I was training to be a minister. It was a companion through the first of a number of faith-crises. I am glad it is in the Bible. I am drawn by its pragmatic wisdom and hard-won faith in God.
But it leaves me with a longing and an ache. I follow where the Gatherer takes me but then have to say: this is all well and good. But I’m left wondering is there anymore to say?
It is claimed by some people of faith that our reasoning powers need the gift of faith to meet head on life’s perplexities.
The Gatherer speaking from before scientific enquiry became the norm nevertheless respects and uses logic and the powers of a reasoning mind to explore life’s puzzling muddle. Yet, he is a person of faith. He does not deny the existence of God. He just finds the divine’s participation in the muddle of life confusing.
I have a strange admiration for this Old Testament writer. He is so honest. He is so unwilling to rely on any answers but his own. He has a one word for this existence.
It describes what he has discovered in life. Life is full of futility. We believe that we understand then it is taken away from us. Anything that satisfies us does not last.
Life is all smoke and mirrors …
This book review was published in The Baptist Times earlier in the summer. It offers a background to my series : The Gatherer. He seems to me to a person who learnt to walk in the darkness of unanswered questions. Here it is.
As someone who prefers a dull day to bright sunlight; looks forward to the night’s drawing in, is not afraid of the dark and enjoys night trekking Barbara Brown Taylor would say I have a leaning towards Lunar Spirituality. This is in contrast to the Full Solar Spirituality which she identifies as the most commended bench mark for healthy Christian living.
There is a book in the bible that should be read within sight and sound of falling leaves. It is Ecclesiastes. It is a good book to read as gardeners try to tidy up the year – but never with complete success.
I think of it as a spiritual journal rather like Markings by Dag Hammarskjold. It is serious about God and the search for meaning in our life. It has been left behind by a seriously honest person. His thoughts are not very well organised. He can be repetitive, alarmingly truthful and mournful. He chose to live on the distant edges of belief.
We do not know the name of the author but he was a collector of experiences. He inhabits the times he is living through and gathers them into his rather cheerless search for purpose and meaning. He is the Gatherer …
I enjoy autumn. It’s the colours of course, but also the cooling in the air and the change in the light.
There’s a hillside of trees near our home and showers of leaves cascade across the fields where squirrels dash in and out of the undergrowth and above lines of birds head south. Wonderful.
The Fall is starting.
In my last post I noted my sense of poignancy on learning that Kenneth Leech had died on the day Jeremy Corbyn was elected.
It seems to me a strange coincidence. I do not know whether they ever met. I do not expect that they would not entirely agree politically but they were, I think, likely to find agreement in their socialism and distaste for Capitalism.
For me Kenneth Leech was the voice of socialist challenge rooted in the catholic stream of the Anglican. His death marks the departure of a highly influential man from the second half of the last century. Carl McColman has written a fine In Memoriam.
So have they? At the time of writing I haven’t heard of any. Maybe they’ve happened in secret or this matter of thanksgiving was mentioned obliquely in the Intercessions last Sunday.
And that’s just it. When the Church does politics it does it obliquely. It rarely strays from what anyone could agree with or at least those who are qualified as centre-right or centre-left. In this age of Christian consumerism it would be a determined Church leader who braved the despair and wrath of their congregation and hailed the (second) coming of the first socialist leader of a mainstream political party since Harold Wilson.
So come on you leftie clerics; you’ve got what you’ve prayed for; let’s have some applause and praise and prayer in the congregation.
Ah, but not that’s how it’s done is it? Apart from a few like Giles Fraser and Kenneth Leech who died on the day Corben was elected Christian political involvement is more about nuanced commentary and compassion rather than excited political protest or celebration.
This book review was published in The Baptist Times earlier in the summer. John Bowker has just republished Beliefs that Changed the World which would be a good follow-up to God.
I was once was a mission chaplain for the CU at Leicester University. I remember after one evening’s gathering I was approached by two Muslim students. They were full of questions and what they wanted was an explanation of what Christians believe. They were not interested my experience. They wanted to know what I believe. I think too much Christian promotion is about the good feelings that result from following Christ. That is not enough. Explanation is important too.
John Bowker knows this.
A priest with missionary heart emerges from the professional theologian in this concise book about God.
The Very Short Introductions (VSI) offer a concise and accessible way to consider a new subject. They are written by experts from the chosen area of interest and range from The British Constitution to Anarchism, Privacy to Robotics. They offer a starting point and then point on to the paths ahead.
In his VSI John Bowker achieves just this. He is an authoritative theologian, translator and author working both in Britain and the USA. Due to failing eyesight he acknowledges the help of his wife in completing the script. She is an ecclesiastical historian and together they have served the Anglican Church worldwide.
Whether or not this makes them experts on God I would expect them to deny but they are clearly well-placed to reflect on how people have described the experience and comprehension of ‘the magnificent concept of God which will not go away’.