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BecksC's Blog

Posted: Sat Jan 23, 2016 6:22 pm
by BecksC
Essay 1: Prayer is spirituality, but not all of spirituality is prayer. [please see blog archive 'Fifty-two essays' for background]

In Romans 12:1, Paul uses the term 'spirituality' to summarise what he sees as the Christian's quest for life:

'I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.'

During the middle ages, the term 'spirituality' came to mean that time which is expressly set aside for the worship of God, and to describe the efforts of the soul in repelling the sinful nature of the fresh. A glance at a copy of a Puritan diary expresses this duality, where the writer lists as many sins as they recognise in their life, commenting on the frailness of the flesh and its responsibility for the identified sin.

In the fragmented lifestyle the twenty-first century has gifted, it is all too easy to have 'prayer time' and 'church time', alongside 'gym time' and 'work time'; never the twain shall meet. But the twain must meet. Today, we are beginning to rediscover the original meaning of the word, and once again many of us have entered on the quest to live both body and soul in God's light, where the body is no longer seen as the sinful enemy of the soul but both are a team working together in God's service, both in conscious communion with God and in everyday life, where are actions must be informed by the love of God we experience in meeting with him daily.

BecksC's Blog

Posted: Sat Jan 23, 2016 10:24 pm
by Ernest
Spirituality means different things to different people, normally specific too the context they are in, or the context that it is used in, a couple of 'modern' definitions:

(1) “Spirituality is that inner dimension of the person called by certain traditions the “spirit”. This spiritual core is the deepest centre of the person. It is here that the person experiences ultimate realty” (Encyclopaedia of world spirituality)

(2) “Spirituality concerns the quest for a fulfilled and authentic religious life, involving the bringing together of the ideas distinctive of that religion and the whole experience of living on the basis of and within the scope of that religion” (McGrath. A. 2002 Pg2).

"There is then no one singular, uniform concept, experience or definition of spirituality. It is by no means restricted by one dimension of its multi faceted nature, it is influenced by its past and its present, continually changing adapting showing an awareness of other spiritualities, social trends, psychology and religious outlooks. Bearing this in mind it is more than apparent that spirituality does not begin from scratch, nor does it necessarily have to be Christian in nature".(Stroud D, Cantab 2009) Esssay Critique.

You rightly cite Paul as defining defining spirituality in terms of how to live a Christian life, but I wonder how we define a Christian life these days?

Food for thought for me perhaps? :hmm:

BecksC's Blog

Posted: Tue Jan 26, 2016 3:30 pm
by Joe Parrish
When I think of spirituality I think of something at the inner core of our being, which if it is the Holy Spirit is something eternal that death cannot quench. Of course we humans cannot know with any surety who does and who does not have the Holy Spirit at the core of their being.
But if we are Christians, we are always struggling with how to allow that Spirit at our centers become the life giving force that helps us to act always in loving ways towards others. And our further challenge is how do we help others with such a surely Christ centered core to get out of their shell of death and come alive with the power that dwells within each Christian.
Peace and blessings,
Joe :)

BecksC's Blog

Posted: Tue Jan 26, 2016 4:41 pm
by BecksC
Food for thought for everyone, I think, Ernest! How compartmentalised modern life is does present us with some new challenges which I hope we can all overcome. I know I struggle. :)

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Posted: Sun Feb 07, 2016 5:28 pm
by BecksC
Essay 2: Huldrych Zwingli

This essay reminded me why as a young student I often shirked my academic work. The books on this topic are long and occasionally seems as though your brain is trying to walk through treacle in wellington boots. :)

Huldrych Zwingli was a sixteenth century Swiss reformer and a contemporary of, although different from, Luther. Above all else, he held the belief that anyone could read and understand Scripture with the Holy Spirit's guidance, without intermediary assistance, causing him to leave behind the Catholic Church in favour of the reform movement. All of his life was dedicated to his parishioners; he even stayed in Zurich when The Plague struck to minister to them, contracting the disease himself but surviving to continue his ministry.

While I do not agree with Zwingli on all fronts, his insistence on the clarity of the Word of God when the Spirit leads is something that is still a challenge to Christians today. When studying theology, I was always encouraged to refer to as many commentators as possible when trying to understand a particular passage of Scripture. While commentaries can be useful, there is no getting away from the power of the Spirit to lead understanding of Bible passages, and without doubt the only way to have a complete understanding of the Word of God is to ask Him to reveal it to us, and he surely will.

BecksC's Blog

Posted: Mon Feb 08, 2016 3:01 pm
by Beth
When my nephews visited at Christmas we had a long discussion about existentialism, which the eldest said he agreed with. I explained that existentialism could mean all sorts of different things. For example, American literature, particularly by black authors is called existential because it is interested in the experiences of black people and the historical conditions of their lives (that they existed against).

As we are ever more mediated by screens and rule-based technological plaforms when we communicated I think we are becoming prone to valuing lived experiences and interpersonal relationships (with people and deities or spiritual beliefs that don't have gods) over holistic rules that religions have typically favoured. Note, black authors were liberated from rule-based slavery, and that's what allowed them to write.

There are some religious philosophers who've explored this idea, the most famous is Søren Kierkegaard.

Provoking thoughts, BecksC!

BecksC's Blog

Posted: Thu Feb 11, 2016 1:36 am
by Pam
Interesting reflection, Becks. When I became a Christian (in my thirties), I read the Bible very much at face value, but I just naturally became interested in different translations and the background to what was written - I think because I came to it as a student of languages and literature. I agree with Zwingli that there is something Spirit-led in how the bible 'speaks' to us. But I also find it endlessly fascinating as a collection of writings.


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Posted: Wed Aug 24, 2016 8:15 pm
by BecksC
Essay 4: Believing, Belonging, Secularisation and Mission

[it's been a while. I've been planning a wedding and researching for my PhD, so a little busy. Essay 3 was what is known as 'gobbets'; not particularly interesting.]

In the most recent census (2011), 59% of the UK reported seeing themselves as Christian (of a population of 65.26 million). Those who considered themselves to have no faith accounted for a quarter of the population. Compare this with the 1991 census, 72% claimed to be Christian. According to these statistics, we live in a Christian country; belief is still very much alive. However, attendances at Church of England Sunday worship dropped below one million worshippers in 2014. These discrepancies are often explained by the concept of 'believing without belonging' - people still believe in the Christian God, but do not belong to, nor attend, nor feel the need to attend, Christian services of worship. This is a positive result for the churches, or so it seems, as ‘all’ that needs to happen is a change to services, social offerings and revamp its buildings and the masses will return to the church.

If only it were that simple. How often have we watched Pointless, and seen contestants not be able to answer the most basic questions about Christianity, in a country where the census suggests at least half of contestants should be able to come up with some answers.

In fact, the church needs to face three big issues caused by the paradigm shift that has occurred in society over the past hundred years: the fracture of society (into several neatly contained boxes of 'work', 'family', 'football club', etc. the meeting of these groups has been known to cause anxiety attacks in party planners), pluralism (Christianity is now not the only thing in the spirituality aisle of the social supermarket), and perhaps most corrosively of all indifference (people no longer really care about religion; they don't think about the questions that Christianity seeks to answer).


The matter of belief is not something that can be easily quantified, but it certainly isn’t at the 54% suggested by the census. Belonging is in decline everywhere (twenty-nine pubs close every week in the UK), so the church is not alone here, but it is an institution that, due to its seeming inability to change as society does, is suffering more than most. In missionary terms this is, surprisingly, relatively unimportant. Churches exist partially to serve the community, and although society is fragmented, many geographic communities have similar needs, many of which can be met by the church. Steve Bruce, sociologist and studier of religious decline, states that ‘Spiritual growth appeals mainly to those people whose more pressing material needs have been satisfied.’ Oddly, Bruce uses this to claim that people do not consider spiritual matters because their lower hierarchical needs are lacking, and once these have been fulfilled they will then turn to the spiritual, but that simply is not the case. In the UK, the vast majority of people’s material needs are more than satisfied, and the church is providing, as it has through the centuries, for those whose basic needs are not met (For example, the Salvation Army’s work with the homeless, and food banks, the presence of which in the sixth richest country in the world is an absolute scandal). There are, however, some avenues that are open to churches wanting to get involved with Maslow’s hierarchy at levels one (physiological) and two (safety); personal debt is at an all-time high and the obesity crisis threatens the health of millions all over the country. For the most part, however, the churches must now enter Maslow's hierarchy at level three: love and (speak of the devil) belonging. Research is being published all the time that suggests digital communications are not enough for humans to have their social needs met; humans are not an island, and it seems digital bridges are not enough. SilverLine, a similar organisation to ChildLine but for older people, received its millionth caller in August 2016. Clearly there is belonging to be had here. In times of spiritual crisis, people turn to the church; they should also turn to it in times of social crisis.

'Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.'

BecksC's Blog

Posted: Thu Sep 29, 2016 5:48 pm
by BecksC
Essay 6: Psalms and the idea of Kingship

There are two things most striking about the depiction of the King-God in the Psalms: firstly, it is always the same although the Psalms are a diverse group of poems for many different occasions, and the second is that the idea is everywhere.

God is always, no matter the situation, the Almighty-Creator-Shelter-Defender King. Even those psalms lamenting current situations and looking for salvation contain assurance that Yahweh is King, capable of doing His will as he has done in the past (almighty); is responsible for the existence of the universe, and even the current situation and thus can change it (creator); is capable and encourages being called upon in times of trouble (refuge); and can actively defend and fight of current woes (defender).

BecksC's Blog

Posted: Sat Oct 01, 2016 6:33 am
by Ernest
Thanks for illustrating the power of the Psalms to celebrate the Kingship of God, our creator and
whose love for us transcends all.

I love the Psalms, particularly when they're used in Worship. Sadly, not enough in my view. I recently acquired an illustrated book of the Psalms, in the King James language, which is beautiful and has been much admired by those who have seen it.

We have Evensong in our parish, which is the only time when the Psalms get an outing. Sad to say. :cross: :whistle:

BecksC's Blog

Posted: Fri Oct 21, 2016 4:03 pm
by BecksC
I, too, love the Psalms, Ernest, and I get to read a lot of them as they are littered throughout eighteenth century fiction in one form or another!

It's just occurred to me I've missed 5; two for the price of one!

Essay 5: Lamenting Psalms. Under-utilised in Worship?

‘Leave your problems at the door and come to worship.’ How often have we heard that statement issued from the pulpit before a church service? In many Christian circles, worship is all about praise to an almighty, too terrifying for you to be anything other than worshipful; in prayer acronyms, lament is left out; anger at God is a common reason given for loss of faith, but there are few modern prayers designed to express anger toward God. The prayer book of the Bible, the Psalms, does not contain one or two examples of both individuals and whole communities expressing anger and anguish towards God, but over sixty. Clearly by neglecting the psalms of lament we are missing a fundamental aspect of Old Testament worship. To be allowed to express our anger at God, at the situation and even at ourselves in prayer is one of the most honest forms of prayer, if that is how we are feeling. The idea that our anger can in some way damage God, who understands the minutiae of the causes and experience of this anger, is ridiculous. It is my belief that the psalms of lament are not so much for God’s benefit, but for ours. To express our anger at an injustice or situation to God not only releases the anger from us, so it does not build into lasting resentment, but also gives one the courage that we can approach God with anything and we don’t have to put on the mask of piety and go through the motions of praise, being dishonest with God, but also ourselves. At the end of many of the psalms of lament, praise is once again issued to the Almighty; the psalmist has ‘prayed through’ the confusion into the realm of worship, rather than trying (and inevitably failing) to leave it at the door of the church.

The question of whether the lament psalms are under-utilised in worship must have the answer of both yes and no. We cannot use the lament psalms without due cause. To lament when not lamentful is as dishonest as praising when not praiseful. From a weekly service standpoint, these psalms are not effective as a general tool for closeness to God, although preparing a congregation for the idea that lamenting is acceptable and even something to be encouraged could be tackled. When they do come into the fore is in situations when there is something to lament about, either individual or communally, when anger at the seeming inaction or absence of God can help a community come to terms with tragedy and find the praise at the end of the psalm, maybe not immediately, and there is no suggestion in the psalms that the lament and the praise follow directly on from one another, that there is not an intervening time frame between the lament and the resolution. If we see God as unable to take our woes and feelings of anger towards him, then our picture of God is far, far too small.

Essay 7: The sequence of the Psalms

Once upon a time, a great king assembled wise men to create for him a ring, which would make him happy when he was sad. The wise men came up with the phrase ‘this too shall pass’. Unfortunately, this also reminded the king that when he was happy, sadness would come again. The structure of the book of Psalms can be thus described. Moving from lament to praise at will; not organised alphabetically, nor by author, nor by theme, nor chronologically; academics have argued for centuries about what method could have been used to sequence the psalms in the way they are today. Many theories exist, but all with multiple exceptions to such an extent that very few stand up to thorough academic reasoning. There are some groups claiming to be of the same author/style, but these are interspersed with those which do not fit this pattern. There is a general chronological move from the kingship of David to post-exile, but again there are exceptions to this generality. Sometimes there are several lament, kingship psalms or psalms of praise together; sometimes they are completely jumbled as though someone had the organised manuscript, dropped it on the floor in a rush to meet the deadline on the way to the binders, scrabbled the pages back together and thought, ‘that will do’.

What, then, can be said about how the Psalms were put together? We do not know who did it, nor why. The general consensus seems to be for some form of worship service, but whether they were arranged to be used as the BCP arranges its forms of worship, or whether like a hymn book it is designed to be dotted around based on what is required is unclear. There is a rough date, Books I-III pre-exilic; Books IV-V post-exilic; all compiled together by the fourth century BCE at the latest, but even this is debatable. The answer must be that nobody knows, and will probably never know. As to the significance of the placement of Psalms, Psalm 1 as an introduction is a viable theory, as are the deliberate placement of the last five psalms, all of which share the common literary and poetic theme of 'Praise ye the Lord', but as for the rest there seems to be no rhyme nor reason. In this respect, the arrangement of the psalms into the current volume is one that emulates life. We are for periods happy, then sad, and happy again; we sometimes feel both at once. We are influenced by different styles and people at different times, but rarely exclusively one or another. Although life is experienced chronologically, our memories and hopes take us back and forward in time respectively. We cannot attach too much significance to the sequence, and yet as an exemplar of the meaning of life it is all significant – when sad, you will again be happy; when surrounded by enemies, there will again be peace; when concentrating on the troubles of this world our eyes are suddenly raised heaven-ward. ‘This, too, shall pass’.