+ In the name … ( )
It may be worth offering—as I begin my ‘campaign’ of speaking within the church—that when I speak ‘in the name’ of the trinity, it is as the trinity is; a relationship, a self-giving openness which invites our participation.
In other words I am not speak to you, I hope my approach is understood as speaking ‘with you’.
The ideas I suggest might be helpful, or they may frustrate; they are offerings, suggestions, different perspectives. I am trying to open a dialogue.
If you find yourself thinking ‘I don’t agree with that’, then that may well be the point when you are hearing God. I don’t mind, I am not trying to convince anyone of anything, rather simply trying to introduce ideas, which help draw us nearer to experiencing God in ways we might understand for our lives.
This is a very Anglican way. Preaching is very important, but its not didactic, this is a discussion; it only works if we all think, respond, disagree and engage.
The word is not a spoken word; it is a word that exists somewhere between the voice and the hearer, between action and contemplation.
I have to confess this teaching on prayer from Jesus and me have… ‘some previous disagreements’.
Come back with me, some 16 years.
It was New Years Eve, the millennium, and I was in Guys hospital and watching my son struggling to live.
We already had experience of Hayden life-threatening neuromuscular condition; disability and most alarmingly breathing problems. Many resuscitations, many interventions. It was a extremely traumatic time for Rachel and me.
On this occasion, half way up Guy’s Tower, he was struggling to breathe even whilst on a ventilator. It was a desperate moment.
But the darkening clouds of disbelief, which had loomed for a number of years, finally released their full deluge. The prayer was empty, I had lost faith, the universe was silent.
The problem I have with this reading is that it was this verse which rattled around my head as I sat by that hospital bed; fathers? Eggs? Scorpions, ask, receive? home much more would your heavenly father give?
“THIS IS NOT TRUE!” was the cry of my heart.
I know I am not alone here, and that many, if not all, people in this church have known moments of pain, doubt and disappointed prayer. we live in a world which has seen terrible atrocities, genocides, cancers, tragedies. Some stay ‘strong’, others do not, others name the pain…
As did Job, or Jeremiah, or the writers of the Psalms. For each of these faith is not an answer; it is a question.
It is a struggle to wrestle meaning from a seemingly meaningless universe; as much a complaint against heaven as it is a song of joy. A cry of anguish as much as a prayer of hope.
And as we considered last week sometimes one is another way of expressing the other. The call of doubt is a way of framing hope; for the call of Job telling God he is a liar – is a cry holding God to account, it is a cry that is a cry of faithfulness. A faithfulness that enters relationship, and is therefore open to surprise.
The psalms are full of such disorientation; we thought we had faith in God, but now we doubt it. For me, God was not the refuge from the storm, God was the tempest.
So at this point – beyond belief, at the point where faith has broken – I found myself once more drawing back to thinking about God. Like poor old Richard Dawkins, the issue of God just wouldn’t go away.
The simplicity of trite answers had gone, but the struggle to think about God called… to return to ‘faith after faith’ is a process which has * been recently called ‘anatheism‘, the return to God after God.
Anatheism is way of letting go of the metaphysical ‘super-hero-sky-god’ and instead looking for the emergence of G-d in the flesh of earthly existence.
Suffering breaks down our conceptions of God, like the apophatic path we talked of last week; suffering reminds us that our ‘concepts of God’ are inevitably limited. But suffering also connects us to others, there is a solidarity in suffering that connects us to one another – and to God.
Letting go of such ‘God’ images – all images – we find that within the humble, beautiful, fragile and broken body we glimpse something of the G-d whose absence we have faced; and whose presence is revealed in weakness and vulnerability.
The Anglican church is learning to become diverse, broad and eclectic. 21stC Anglicanism might open the space between faith and nonfaith; about taking the risk, the process of negotiating the lines between belief and unbelief.
Like Paul Ricour’s ‘second naïveté’, after all the questions and doubts can we return to faith in the 21st century, a post/modern faith beyond both dogma and doubt.
The question is honest, real, relevant, and vital…
Faith is an impossibility for many people outside of this building and for some inside this building; of course it is, As Keirkegaard says, it’s an absurdity!
But within that absurdity, the wild impossible dream, there is something compelling, engrossing, captivating, entrancing, a dream of God’s kingdom. It is the God who emerges after God. The God who meets us in the vulnerability and wager of relationship.
We heard last week of Abraham encountering three strangers at the Oaks of Mamre. He was faced with the choice, (a wager); hospitality or refusal. In the end hospitality won. It was the act (not the theory) of love, where God was revealed.
And interestingly this week we see Abraham again, this time pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah, negotiating with God, trying to strike a deal. And the interesting note is that God responds. I’m suggesting this is beyond the unchanging immutable ‘sky-God’ of fundamentalism and dogma, the God who is certain, fixed, contained. Negotiation suggests a more realistic wrestling with God.
This God is meeting Abraham in a way which goes beyond belief or even faith, instead meeting God in trust, openness and in the arrival of the ‘the other’.
Like the good Samaritan, meeting God in the stranger, in the risk;
or like the Emmaus story, meeting God in the stranger, and revealed in the Eucharistic celebration.
It is like the act of drawing together around a table and saying ‘though we are many we are one body’—despite all our differences—which makes the community become the church.
It is a trust based on desire for God. And as we said last week, desire is borne as much from loss, from absence and silence as it is from presence.
So maybe the way we think about God is changing, maybe that’s what 21 century Anglican offers, a new way of understanding God, beyond the boundaries of belief and non-belief; about meeting God in the everyday and in the sacred in the process of trust and desire, and in the human savoring of life;
‘give us this day our daily bread….’
So to return to Jesus… and this problem text.
(Or is it a problem?)
It too is a negotiation. Our lives echo the hollowness of a promise of fulfillment, and yet Jesus is stressing the importance of prayer, of desire.
What was Jesus thinking when he suggests that these prayers will be answered…?
Right at the end the text might give a clue…
“how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The gift we receive in prayer is not the sky-God, super-man who is going to change circumstances… our cosmology has changed so much, our views of who God is have changed so much it is hard to hold such a worldview.
But in naming our desire, the love of the impossible, maybe we discover the Holy Spirit, the spirit of life. Prayer remains; as a way to connect, to one another, to needs to hope to desire and to lament. Prayer connects us to ‘the other’; to love; and ultimately to God.
By embodying the act of compassion, taking it into ourselves so that we too are moved by the needs of others, in dwelling on the vast, breathtaking awe of the universe, and in the wonder of the divine beyond naming; so we discover something of God in whom we live and move and have our being.
The Spirit calls from the streets, the Spirit is wild, the Spirit may even lead us into the desert, beyond ‘belief’ into a wild place with God. (as she did with Jesus, and she did with me!)
Prayer is about our desire, not the answer;
prayer is about our being within the ground of being;
prayer is a wager of impossibility, mystery and delight.
GS Collins 24/07/16