Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Wounded Healer?

In my spiritual journey and ministry there have been many people who have greatly influenced and inspired me, but perhaps only a handful whose impact has been such as to fundamentally shape my faith understanding, my theology and my practice of ministry. One day I will no doubt say something about some of these folks, but undoubtedly one of them was the late Reverend Ian Cowie, who was for many years the chaplain of the Christian Fellowship of Healing.

Ian's writings and what he said at several conferences on healing gave me deep insights into the healing ministry, his friendly support and encouragement (and I still have some of his letters - treasured and sometimes re-read) kept me going through some dark times, his patient listening, grace-filled understanding and sensitive prayer upheld me when I was in need.

On several occasions Ian was kind enough to accept my invitation to lead worship and preach in one of my previous churches, often around the theme of healing and usually he and I would share in ministering to those who asked for prayer during or after the service.

Good times, fondly remembered!

Yet this man who was always ready to pray with others for their healing, who would gladly recount answers to prayer and who generally promoted this ministry, was himself profoundly deaf. I often wondered (but never got around to asking) if he had ever asked for healing for his deafness!

I do not understand the mystery of Christian healing. I engage in this ministry out of obedience. I have seen prayer answered in ways that I can only describe as remarkable - even miraculous. More often I have seen prayers unanswered in any obvious way - and I know not why.

But something about Ian Cowie's faithful and effective ministry allied to his obvious and restricting disability for some reason inspires me and encourages me. And perhaps all the more since I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

For whatever reason I have never felt it right or natural to seek prayer for healing for my MS. Perhaps that betrays something of a faith inadequacy in me, I don't know. But whenever I have had doubts about praying for others while I continue to have an incurable (or - at least - an as yet uncured!) condition, I remember Ian Cowie.

This week we were/are to have a special focus on healing ministry in St Cuthbert's. Last night a discussion was planned for the Kirk Session meeting, this Sunday the theme of morning worship is healing and (for the first time) ministry and prayer will be offered following morning service and next Tuesday we are holding a 'seminar' on this ministry... and wouldn't you know it - for the first time in over a year I have been sufficiently unwell these past few days to have to back out of things and take it easy. So the discussion did not occur at the Kirk Session last night, and who knows how I will be come Sunday?

Some might say it is the work of the Devil!

Some might say that God is trying to tell me/us something.

Some might say it is mere coincidence (and these same people might also claim that apparent 'healings' are no more than coincidences!)

Some might say that the decision to have a focus on 'healing' triggered something deep within my psyche which has had a psychosomatic impact!

Now, I do not wish to simply (still less rudely) dismiss any of these views. They are all possible (well - in some form at any rate!) But I don't know that I buy into any of them.

When I think of Ian Cowie, I think of a wounded healer and I am struck by the fact that I was always far more likely to approach him for prayer, ministry, counsel, advice than many others who seemed to be robustly well, healthy and 'have it all together'! And I never came away from him without feeling that I had been touched in some way by God's Spirit.

And then there is Paul's 'thorn in the flesh'!

Perhaps it is not a bad thing for those who minister to be at some level 'broken' people... and I manage to be that in very many respects!

As the Lord said to Paul 'My grace is sufficient... my power is made perfect in weakness'

Friday, 14 January 2011

Ritual and rich worship

OK... confession time (not that any of this will be a surprise to many of you!)...

... I love 'high' liturgical worship. In terms of worship, coming to St Cuthbert's has been a wonderful experience. I know of no other C of S congregation where worship is so 'high' (there may be others out there, but I have not come across them). Truth be told, when I have a Sunday off I will naturally gravitate to an Episcopal Church rather than another C of S. And this is not recent. Jane and I have tended towards Piscy Churches since we were students.

I am not saying that there is not a place for contemporary styles of worship (and I have done my fair share of that and appreciated it and promoted it.... about which more in another post sometime I reckon!). Nor am I in any sense advocating starchy, stuffy formality and rigidity.

But worship where there are processions and organs and choirs and candles and responses etc I find much more engaging than worship delivered from 'up front' by a minister, preacher, 'worship leader', praise band etc etc.

But it is even more fundamental than that. It is to do with worship that is rooted in the ancient traditions of the church, where the creeds of the centuries are recited, and the liturgical patterns that have sustained Christian worshippers for two millennia still inform worship patterns and forms today.

For me there is something in all this that speaks of the awesome greatness of God... of his transcendence and glory.

This is not to do with music styles (and in St C's we use the full breadth of CH4 and more besides in terms of Taize and Iona stuff and I do not take undue issue with Kendrick or Townsend - except sometimes! But we do sing them!)

It is not to do with being 'formal' or 'prescribed'.

For me, it has to do with worship that reflects the greatness and glory of God and which stands in the tradition of the church catholic.

But one thing intrigues me... in St C's folks turn east to recite the Creed (fine with me), we have candles (great as far as I am concerned), there are even one or two people who can be seen crossing themselves (no... really!) none of which things are in any sense at all problems for me. But one would be hard-pushed to say that these were 'biblical' (which is not to suggest that they are UNbiblical!

But I suspect that many - even in St C's - would draw the line at incense... which is really odd as it IS biblical!

Can anyone explain?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Dawn-Treader: The Wonder of Narnia

I am not sure exactly what age I was when I read my first Narnia book, but I reckon I was around 8 or 9. I am still reading them. Although C S Lewis claimed that he did not intend them to be overtly Christian nor strictly allegorical, there is no doubt (as he himself admits) that there are very obvious Christian themes and spiritual insights evident in the books. Indeed, when viewing the works in retrospect, Lewis was happy to point out the parallels; even if (as he claims) he may not have set out to create them.

All this is very controversial in some circles, as are Lewis’s supposed sexism and racism in the Chronicles of Narnia. However, despite my socially liberal views and my continual defence of many aspects of what some sneeringly refer to as ‘political correctness’ (I sometimes feel tempted to refer to these folks just as sneeringly as unreconstructed reactionaries and see how that feels!) I do not hold with these criticisms of the Narnia novels. They were written in a particular era by a single, middle-aged man whose social views were deeply rooted in Victorian and Edwardian culture. Get over it! They are set in an historical context.

I would be horrified should any writer today be explicitly advocating the social views that are implicit in Lewis’s works. But they must be judged in the context of a 1950s England (and I do mean England!) which had a nostalgic longing for the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It does not take much to understand why such a longing was present during that particular decade. If the First World War had shaken society, exposed the futility of warfare, caused many to question faith and undermined the liberal dream, then the Second World War had only reinforced all that and – even more – set off a tide of social change which was remarkably swift and continues to this day. Even those who welcomed the changes were taken aback by the rapidity of them and the uncertainty as to where they would lead. Nostalgia is as natural refuge for many in the 50’s as ‘liberation’ and ‘hedonism’ were in the 20’s and early 30’s in Europe.

And so – while critical of many of Lewis’s social and theological views – I remain inspired and fascinated by the Chronicles of Narnia which are, as children’s books, much superior in my opinion to his science fiction trilogy. No, it is not great literature in the way that Tolkien’s epic ‘Lord of the Rings’ is; not even the literary equal of the more accessible ‘The Hobbit’. And yet something of the magic of Narnia has hooked me. (And – yes – the ‘magic’ is also controversial amongst fundamentalist Christians!)

‘The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”’ is possibly my favourite Narnia novel, dealing as it does with issues of spiritual life, maturing in faith and following your call etc etc.

And now having gone to see the film I found myself just as inspired and moved by the film as by the book, even if the film departs from and condenses aspects of the novel.

Above all I have been reminded that the Christian life is a great adventure that has many dangers on the way, will involve struggles and almost certainly some failures, and is made in the company of some rather odd and even undesirable companions!

And yet what a goal we have before us; our sharing in the mission of God for the release and renewal of society, humanity and the earth, and ultimately of entering into Aslan’s country.

Reepicheep reminds us that this is not all there is and even the brave battles we fight here for truth, justice and peace, are fulfilled, bettered and completed in another place, into which we will yet enter.

Love it!