I’ve been thinking more about what I have already written about in ‘Has the English church a future’ and ‘The spirituality of Jesus and why it matters.’ I’d like to develop my ideas a little.
The Church of England is in decline. But so are the other main-line churches in England. So its not a peculiarly Anglican problem. The same thing is happening across much of western Europe. So its not a peculiarly English problem. There’s a massive loss of confidence in institutions generally, be it the press, the politicians, the bankers, the judiciary etc, so its not a peculiarly religious problem. There is something bigger, much bigger, going on here.
So what is a loving God up to? Where is the gift in all this?
A common theme in spiritual direction, and why many people are seeking it, is that they are looking for support and encouragement in trusting their own experience of God, their own inner voice, rather than what those in power are telling them.
These two themes seem to me to fit together: the loss of trust in the corporate wisdom of the institutionally powerful and the discovery of an inner God-given wisdom which people are wondering if they can trust. I discern the activity of God in these two complimentary movements: together they sound rather like an updated rendering of The Magnificat.
And as in The Magnificat, there are all manner of signs of the New Thing that God is bringing into being. I have previously described those that I hear as a spiritual director.
Jesus was faced with a very similar situation I sense. God spoke to Him at His baptism, telling Him of a loving, accepting, encouraging God of few words. A God Who didn’t tell Him what to do. Jesus had to go away to a quiet wilderness place to discern what it meant and what He had to do, and to learn to accept and trust it as being of God.
Having done so He had to live and act out of it, and He soon discovered that while some ordinary people responded to what He said, the religious authorities of His day did not. Indeed they were more preoccupied with maintaining their religious and national institutions than in responding to the authentic voice of God that He had heard. So they opposed Him and eventually sought His death, arguing “that it is more to your interest that one man should die for the people, than that the whole nation should be destroyed.” [Jn 11:50]
My experience is that as with Jesus, so with many today: trusting in one’s own experience of God is likely to lead to the new and exciting things of the Kingdom, but it often comes at a price, as it may well bring you into conflict with the hierarchy of the church. Prophets are rarely welcome!