President Joe Biden appealed for ‘unity’ in his inaugural speech.
In the week of prayer for Christian Unity this had a special impact on me. Christian Unity has been too often mistaken for Church Unity. I have long lost the need for that but have discovered through various encounters and relationships that there is a Christian unity that transcends the carefully-conserved limits of Church structures.
And that unity arises from a deeper unity born out of the first act of creation. There is a oneness, a wholeness, a holiness if you like that transcends all our preferences, allegiances and loyalties by taking us down to the ground of our being.
The psalmist sees us ‘intricately woven in the depths of the earth’ before we are ‘born from our mother’s womb’. It is from that earthy cradle that all things as well as our desires for unity must ascend.
Thomas Merton the North American monk stated in a meeting of representatives of different religions that “we are already one but we imagine that we are not”.
We have forgotten our essential closeness by parading the badges of our politics, religions, sports teams and favoured cars and super-markets. Each may help us with our identity but they are provisional clothing for a deeper harmony.
The search for the oneness of the human soul and the healing of creation is the gift and the task of our time.
God of the flowing rivers, may we discover anew flowing spirit.
God of the lonely plains, touch these empty places within us
Where we are vulnerable enough to meet you
And where we discover a new understanding
Of ourselves and the world.
This prayer was written by Peter Millar in his collection of reflections Candle in the Window 2020 prepared during the first national lockdown.
As religious buildings stay shut or allow curtailed access their limitations become apparent. However loved or venerated they might be they have been rendered insignificant during the pandemic. Whatever faith you or I may follow has had to survive beyond their reassuring familiarity.
A church-bound faith leaves God in the building. Yet as Peter’s prayer reminds us; in the words of Paul of Damascus ‘ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made’.
He is the God of flowing rivers and lonely plains and also city parks and window boxes. A God of calm lakes and surging winds. A divine song truly sings in conjoined stars and the constant re-shaping moon.
So God bless the walkers and the climbers, the landscape watchers and the beach-strollers, the leaf-kickers and the muddy-field trudgers.
May he speak in the nature of things to our fears and our hopes for 2021.
Colin Morris died 20 May 2018. He was a Methodist minister who lived and proclaimed the Gospel with a distinctive voice and at times controversial views.Through broadcasting he continued the Soper Tradition within Methodism of speaking truth to the power for the future good of society. The following comes from a broadcast in 1990 about the significance of being made in the Image of God:
I am not a naked ape or a handful of dust or an evolutionary accident;
I am not a speck on a cinder floating in outer space,
nor a fifteen-digit number on a computer card.
Now are we children of God, says the New Testament writer John,
and it doesn’t yet appear what we shall be.
What about that for an open future?
It’s worth remembering those words in moments
of aloneness, despair and self-doubt.
The image of God, conformed into the likeness of Christ;
that is our cosmic dignity and our destiny.
And it’s ours for the asking.
For me it is far too early to draw many conclusions from the experience of COVID-19. However it makes me wonder who we believe ourselves to be. Once we lose our significance society may come to believe that we have no value and so might we. Morris is exploring the question: just what are we worth?
The talks were later published in one of his books Starting from Scratch published by Epworth.