The September Pastoral Letter from the Rector
On holiday Gill, the family and I like nothing better than to go walking, whether it be on the downs here in Sussex, or as we did this year on the cliff tops of Dorset. It has been known on occasions that we get ourselves a little lost. This can of course so easily happen in life too. The landscape of our lives can sometimes become a frightening and threatening place to be with no familiar landmarks to help us. There may be particular times when this is so; when we have to move home, or leave home or we are the ones left when our children leave home, or a life threatening operation or disease takes hold of us or a loved one, or a life time partner dies. At these times I believe that all of us need a strong land mark. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) Of course we could - and do - spend the whole of our lives exploring what this means; and I believe that every human life, is lived in relation to this statement, whether people know it or not, because either it is true or the whole Christian faith is an illusion. There isn’t any room between those two alternatives for wriggling or squirming. For Christians the image of Jesus Christ as 'the way' is invitation for us to follow him so that his way might become our way, our way become conformed to his way, and that we might safely reach our journey’s end where we shall know the truth perfectly and live the real life for which we were created.
Therefore we need to walk in 'the way' ourselves — and although we can and should help one another as much as we can, nobody else can tell us in detail what following 'the way' will mean in and for each of our own lives. Cardinal Basil Hume once wrote, “Every man, woman and child is made in the image of God; therefore every man woman and child can tell me something about God that nobody else can.” The image of God we have in common, it’s what it means to be human; there is only one way to the Father, but the way in which the image is to be realised in each of us and the exact place on the road where we must place our feet are as varied as the different people God has created us.
Each and every one of us has an inescapable and personal responsibility to “love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind, and with all our strength” and “our neighbour as ourselves.” But for each of us the way that gets worked out has to be in the different positions in which we find ourselves, in the context of our own individual strengths and weaknesses, in response to what life throws at us, the people and situations which are simply there before us. We hear quite a lot about diversity these days and it’s certainly more interesting than the dull uniformity of being clones. But what is ultimately so exciting about human diversity is not the quirks and foibles which make us so different from each other, but the different ways in which God transforms those quirks and foibles, making them the basis for our full participation as members of the Body of Christ. Different limbs and organs, but one body — not at all the same thing as mere diversity or a valuing of difference for its own sake. I would like to remind you of a couple of principles. The first is the practical nature of following the way traced out by God for us. This isn’t a theoretical dreaming of dreams or of fancying that there is a little corner in each of us which is free from the ups and downs of everyday life. The gospel tells us about two of John the Baptist’s disciples who asked Jesus where he was staying. Jesus didn’t explain and he certainly didn’t preach a sermon or give a theological lecture. All he said was, “Come and see.” That’s the only way to do it. The second thing is the diversity of ways in which that following will shape the one who accepts the invitation. Drawing these together, we can see how important it is at every stage of our lives to spend time tracing the patterns of God’s grace and mercy. We need to do this both in relation to the big stories of human history and in relation to our own individual lives. One of the most characteristic things about faith is how it helps us see patterns, to discern the big picture of what is going on and see individual events, whether joyful or painful, in a wider context and to know that that wider context is kind, it has a beneficial purpose; it is not all accidental. This attitude is very well summed up in some words of the justly popular hymn “Amazing grace.” T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far...and Grace will lead us home.
I shall continue this theme through the magazine articles for the autumn as we lead up to the great feast of the incarnation at Christmas.
Your friend and priest