Joined: 16 Nov 2006
|Posted: Wed Dec 02, 2015 12:27 pm Post subject: First Advent
|Here is another excellent post from Jo James
Over the month of November we ‘ve been looking at the idea of transcendence in religion and the in our own tradition of Transcendentalism.
The notion that God crosses boundaries and is perceptible through-out creation led Transcendentalists like JJ Taylor one time minister of Mill Hill and his more famous contemporaries like Emerson and Wordsworth to see that God speaks in other traditions not just the Christian, so they became fascinated with the eastern traditions which often tend to emphasise one-ness.
But I also pointed out that as with any great spiritual idea ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ to coin a phrase, and the ideas of non dualism are as ancient as ecclesiastes at least, every mystic tradition includes visions of God present in human life and all life, and it was from this tradition that the related idea found in Isaiah of ‘Emmanuel’, God with us comes.
Transcendentalism recognised the power of mysticism in religion. Mysticism is defined by the understanding of the oneness of God and by a sense of wonder, a sense of awe, the insight that Blake referred when he said he who sees the infinite in all things, sees God.
This sense of wonder is also the sense we most associate with the childlike perception of the world, the way that children approach life.
We learn through adolescence and adult hood to condition our responses to appear responsible and cynical, jaded, cool, world weary and hardened. To seem business like and savvy is even seen as a positive. Imagine any thing so topsy turvy as that. We need I think to consciously re condition our sense of wonder, to re focus it again, to practice our perception of the world as a new and wonderful thing which is filled with Gods glory.
The great epistle of James in the Christian scriptures is clear in its understanding that faith without works is dead. It couldn't be clearer that being religious is no end in itself, it must have outward effects, it must cause us to ‘make good’. But it is a indication of how great a piece of writing it is that in the same letter James says ‘Draw close to God and God will draw close to you’ - James seems to suggest that our relationship to God can be practised and I think that it is in developing a sense of wonder that we can best do this practice.
The transcendentalists reacted against what they knew was becoming sterile in the rationalist tendency of their day, and they set about to consciously re-enchant or spiritualise their tradition, just as we must do today if we are going to arrest the cliff edge fall of numbers in congregations, we have to provide something worth coming for not just once or twice, but every week.
I’m sure that a sense of wonder in our world and a sense of our place within it is part of that real human need in society today.
We are coming close to the end of the year. Close to one of our great remaining cultural milestones.
Pope Francis has said that in the face of the spiralling inhumanity and oppression of current forces in the world today that Christmas must be considered a charade.
And in many ways I agree with Francis. It is a sad joke that we continue to keep our borders closed to refugees from the Middle-east refusing hospitality while remembering that there was once no room at the inn for the Holy family, and its a ironic charade that we can sing of goodwill and peace to all while conniving with war mongers to firebomb the rubble of Al Raqqah.
But in the midst of all this, if we turn our hearts to stone we help no one, heal nothing, we need more than ever the sense of joy that Christmas can remind us of,
As the year comes to a close we must remind ourselves of the childlike the wondering and miraculous, open ourselves to the possibility of the infinite and ultimate, to stories and miracles however jaded and cynical we must have become.
I’m going to be holding services around the ancient idea of the labyrinth, the first is at 6.00 pm tonight. A wonderful ancient practice of rediscovery through a journey, outward and inward.
But I’m also going to ask you to do something now, something you may at first dismiss as silly, but which I hope that as advent progresseses you may give thought to.
You’ll have noticed that there are no decorations on this Christmas tree as yet. That's because I ‘m going to ask you to decorate it with your prayers. This has been a deliberately short sermon so as to give us a few minutes to put aside our cynicism and take the coloured label you ‘ll have been given with your order of service and write a message to yourself. It could be a single word, or it could be a sentence, it could be a wish or a prayer. You may want to think of a single word to sum up what you feel about the year just past or a single word to sum up your hopes for a year to come, take a pencil write on the label and come up and tie your label on to the tree. and while you get started with that I ‘m going to invite the children to come in and start us off by decorating the tree with their wishes too….