Monday, June 30, 2008

Here, there or everywhere?

This is a clerge's equivalent to a teccie blog post on memory leaks in Firefox 3 (which is very good, by the way)

We're looking to start a regular slot for reflective and silent prayer for one hour on a Monday evening. For publicity, we gave it a name: GodSpace. Now, a friend of mine challenged the title, as he felt it implied that God occupies some spaces but not others, whereas Christians believe God is everywhere (omnipresent). We understood the title as an invitation to busy people to make some space in their lives to pray and to listen to God.

However, I understand Stephen's point. Christians often use language that suggests God is more in some places than in others, and it happens across the theological spectrum. Go to a gathering of Christians with praise band in full swing and they will refer to a time of worship. On hearing this, one vicar said at a meeting I attended in London many years ago:" I've been trying to avoid worshipping God all the way from Newcastle on the train". I know what the meeting leader meant - it was about focus, and a conscious engagement with praising God in the songs; but there was a theology implicit in the terminology.

In case those of us from more traditional or sacramental Churches feel superior at this point, just think about ancient hymns. At an ordination service on Saturday, we sang Come, Holy Ghost our souls inspire, an ancient hymn inviting the Holy Spirit to come. Was He not there already? Will our singing affect His decisions and behaviour? Or consider sacraments. Is God more present in the bread and wine of communion than in the air that surrounds it? What is the qualitative difference? And are holy places and shrines really any different to 'non-holy', or is the difference really only subjective?

I'm starting to think that omnipresence is a problem for human beings to conceive. Paradoxically, if God is genuinely everywhere, I think human perception starts to experience that as nowhere - a kind of taking the divine for granted. We need focal points in order to concentrate on, and with God's grace perceive, that which is true in all times and in all place. A a result, our language inevitably falls short when we describe particular events, moments, places or sacraments.

So God will be no more present in St Martin's Chapel on Mondays from Sep 15 at 7-30pm than He is in your hallway, toilet or bedroom right now. However, that hour might enable people to make space in their consciousness, perception and diary to engage with His (constant) presence.

Starting to sound like a sermon, so I think it's time to get on with some work!


Andrew said...

Though we believe God is everywhere, times of organised worship and/or reflection can provide an environment where this fact is more obvious to us, and where we feel compelled to engage.
We often spend so much time engaged with work, family, socialising and general busyness that we marginalise our engagement with the omnipresent God.
So, for me, regular and/or corporate worship is part of a necessary (and mostly joyful) discipline. It just so happens that the opportunities I find most helpful are provided in a Church building.

Mike Peatman said...

Absolutely, Andrew

There's also the thing about where 2 or 3 are gathered. Something about community being a more full expression of the presence of Jesus than an isolated individual.