Thursday 5 November 2009

Sustaining the Sacred Centre 1

What kind of business do we think we’re in? The Church’s business is as much to know God and enjoy him for ever, delighting in Scripture and prayer, as it is to undertake organisational and administrative indoor games. The latter matter too, but only in relation to the former, because if all we ever do in Church business meetings is secular Church business, we lose our capacity to do anything after a while.

Our first diocesan prioirity for next year is what we call “sustaining the sacred centre” — nourishing our roots of faith, cultivating our imagination and openness to God, using poetry, song and and art, and releasing creative energy that can only come from deep encounter. Therefore, recently, inspired and organised by Archdeacon Karen Gorham, we replaced a regular area deans/lay chairs business meeting with a day enneagram workshop together.

This revealed the extent to which we have gotten into the habit of trying to transact complex business together with a less than adequate understanding of each person’s God-given humanity to sustain our process. Getting to recognise, articulate and enjoy our differences and particularities has helped us forward immensely. Suddenly we found we could frame and reframe our business questions in appropriate personal as well as theoretical terms. Thus more productive gets done.

Building on Karen’s brilliant idea, therefore, we have just been away with 22 area deans and lay chairs to Glenfall House, Cheltenham, for a 24 hour residential. We took with us some resource clergy — Ernesto Lozada-Uzuriaga Steele, Dani Muñoz-Treviño, and Ian Adams. All content was fantastically rich, and I’ll try and get to blog all three, but I’ve just got space for one today. Twenty Four hours seemed like a much longer time (in a good way!), and we all left feeling energised and revitalised spiritually.

Ernesto serves in Milton Keynes, and is an artist and priest. He has developed a knack for leading others into biblical stories, especially from the Old Testament, to explore them and enjoy them, then open themselves to creative possibilities in them. We took two stories — Jacob’s Ladder and Jacob wrestling an angel. Interacting individually and together with the text, themes of Solidarity and Struggle began to emerge, and really got us humming as we began to recognise resonances in our own stories from which we identified songs from the backing track of our lives. Using this we tried to identify, personally, symbolic objects and experiences that seemed to capture what God was saying to us about faith as solidarity and struggle. Tim Norwood’s doodle, here, captured some of the images that were spelled out around the room b y the end of our time together.

This may sound slightly weird, but it really opened a lot of spiritual doors for our group. You just explore the text in its own terms, suspending the question “what does it mean?” until you have really interacted with the story at a deep level in its own terms, and played with it and entered into it emotionally and imaginatively. Then you identify a song from the backing track of your own life and experience, and see what images God opens in your mind in response.

For anyone wanting to try this kind of thing in the privacy of their own home, Ernesto has a new book out, Five Stones and a burnt Stick. This takes the reader imaginatively into the Moses story, exploring his intimacy God against the counterpoint of his relationship with his wife. It made me realise how rich the Biblical tradition is, especially once we release it from the tyranny of being rationalised off into abstract ideas, and just let the narrative work on us, like the people did who originally told these stories around iron age campfires...

1 comment:

June Butler said...

What a lovely post, Bishop Alan. You piqued my interest in Fr Ernesto's book.

The Scriptures are most alive for me when I read them without going too much into working out the "real meaning" and just entering into the story with mind and heart open. I'd think that bringing songs and images to play would make the experience even richer.

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