Bishop Peter 'travels hopefully' into 2012
Sunday 1st January 2012
New Year message from the Bishop of Bath and Wells
I don’t make resolutions as such, but I do begin each new year hopefully. ‘To travel hopefully is better than to arrive,’ observed Robert Louise Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island. And each new year marks the beginning of a journey into the unknown, whatever our plans and predispositions may be.
Before Christmas I read a wonderful book called Flunking Sainthood. It was the account of a woman, Joanna Reiss, who had set herself the task over the period of a year to become more saintly. The ‘blurb’ on the back cover sums the book up: ‘Lots of books will teach you how to be a success. Here’s one that will show you the advantages of falling short.’
And it does. It is the most wonderful witty book that tells it as it is. All of us look for times in our lives when we can deepen our relationship and understanding of who God is for us. Over Christmas many people will have come into our churches for the only time in a year. It doesn’t matter very much what motives have brought them, after all if we really searched our own hearts, what are the motives that take us to church?
What I believe is that in every one of us there is that which seeks for a kind of paradise, a better world, a richer and deeper self.
In the story of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise and enter the world of work, of things, of pain and conflict. There is an interesting moment which readers of Genesis often overlook. It is the promise of an angel at the gate of Paradise that comforts ‘man’ and ‘woman’ - that they will in the distant future return.
Simply put, God’s resolution for humanity is that it can return to a place of love, compassion, and belonging. In essence that is the story of Christmas. We see the child born in the stable, and as at the birth of every child there is the miracle of potential. We see in the child all we hope for ourselves. The child in turn calls us to tenderness and longing; hoping for this new life that it will be marked by love, compassion, forgiveness and belonging.
When strangers come into our churches, how do they see us, and how do we see them? For many the church is a kind of shell, into which they come. The question for many is ’Where is the centre?’ or perhaps, ‘Where is the mystery? What is the great truth that you are holding or even hiding?’
Church people often talk about their relationship to God. Other people want to know what that looks like. There are three ways I suggest it can be seen. One is through helping people and being a community of service. A second is through worship; the quality, the integrity of prayer, praise and preaching. The third way is a kind of inner way, the experience of a still point in one’s life that exposes us to God, and God to us.
‘For prayer,’ said St. Teresa of Avila, ‘is nothing more than being on terms of friendship with God.’ And it is that friendship that is the centre of the shell.
If you have made resolutions, good luck to you. Like me, you may have simply decided to live hopefully and improve your friendship with God. As even if, in the words of Robert Benson, ‘I am not much holier than I was before I began…I am still trying nevertheless.’
+Peter Bath and Wells
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