The wisdom of the world-weary preacher

tree-rings-on-weathered-stump-texture1-600x400I’m just back from church having listened to the best sermon I have heard for a very long time.

I suppose the preacher was in his late 70s. He played to the gallery. He had obviously preached the sermon often. He was witty, to the point and entertaining. And yet …

It was a very conventional re-telling of a Christian world-view of the God who let something happen in the Garden of Eden which resulted in a rescue mission. It was a mission that involved a nation, its people, priests and prophets and finally a Saviour whose spirit is still on the move all over the world.

It wasn’t what the preacher said which drew my admiration. It wasn’t even the way he said. It was what emerged between the words. There was a wisdom which was full of pathos and truth. It was a wisdom that seemed to be burdened by its own awareness.

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The Wilderness Experience (2)

Sinai2The experience of a wilderness is often used as a metaphor of spiritual emptiness. In my last post, I described my own experience of staying in the Sinai desert. It taught me not to use the metaphor glibly.

Spiritual emptiness – by which I mean loss of direction and one’s hold on God or your own convictions – may be no more than lack of discipline and persistence. Time spent in a wilderness may be deeply challenging yet at the same time enriching.

Here is another piece I wrote after coming out of the Sinai. It starts with a question Jesus asked of people who went out into wild places around the Jordan valley to meet the prophet John.

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The Wilderness Experience

Sinai 1“Experiencing the wilderness is an expanding and uplifting sensation for the human spirit. It draws us out beyond our selves. An untamed environment, untouched by human beings, whether it is a vast ocean, rain forest, a desert, points to the ultimate mystery at the heart of the world which continually calls human beings to a deeper communion with the Earth and with God”. Sean McDonagh, Irish Columban Missionary and Eco-theologian

I don’t want to argue with Father Sean, but I fear we can be just a little too romantic about the benefits of wilderness spirituality. This is something I wrote after just a few days in the Sinai.

You tell me you are going through a ‘wilderness experience’ in your faith.

So does it mean?

You don’t know whether to sit, stand or walk

Because your backside is so sore?

You long for the sun because it’s so cold at night

And when it comes you are beaten down

By its unrelenting glare?

You’ve seen the tracks of an animal

Walk over you in your sleeping bag

But the maker of the tracks?

You’ve walked into a new place

And left only your footprints?

You’ve walked and walked

And found nowhere to go?

You’ve been confronted by so much honesty

That you feel stripped-bare?

You’ve been seduced?

You’ve felt you’ve lost everything

But been given everything too?

You’ve looked in every direction

And each way forward looks as

Confusing as the other?

And it’s been so quiet

You’ve been afraid to hear

Your heart beat?


Now think!

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A very influential man (3)

index“My object in writing this book is to persuade all readers that the experience they must reflect on is not mine, but their own, because the only place any of us can find God at first hand is within our own experience” Gerard Hughes

I’m continuing to read Cry of Wonder and this quotation sums up its core theme. It is to know and reflect on one’s own experience. He describes his own struggles to recognise this. Whilst he is clearly based within one of the Christian traditions, he does not regard it as a well-guarded sanctuary. Indeed he believes that when the Church seeks to exert her authority in relation to this is when God can be pushed out.

Hughes writes:

“God is to be found in the ordinary, in the earthiness and messiness, the chaos and strife of everyday life”.

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