Thursday, 19 February 2015

O for a closer walk with God

As we begin Lent, William Cowper’s hymn ‘O for a closer walk with God’ has been much on my mind. Now I know that Cowper suffered bouts of insanity and periods of depression and some of that depression and doubt are reflected in his hymns, including this one.

Yet I find myself in sympathy with much of what he writes in this hymn.

I do long for a closer walk with God… (but perhaps avoid facing up to those things that hinder it!).

‘Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?’ he asks. And I can echo that.

As time goes on it is to be expected that youthful fervency matures (fades?) whether that be applied to romantic love, political views or spiritual intensity.  I am not sure whether or not it is inevitable but it is certainly common.

But along with moving beyond the over simplistic certainties and callow fervour I wonder if we do not also (too often?) lose something of the core of our faith, ditch committed discipleship and settle for a bland milk-and-water type of Christian following (of the type I once ridiculed in the respectable church-going middle class environment in which I was raised).

Or perhaps what I am really saying is that this is part of my perception of myself and my story.

Part of the journey of this Lent may be to ask searching questions of myself as to why I feel that this has occurred and what I can do about it.

‘The dearest idol I have known,
whate’er that idol be,
 help me to tear it from thy throne,
and worship only thee.’

Hmmm… could I really say/sing that with sincerity?


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Living with Limitations

Lent has begun.

Like many Christians I am ‘giving something up’ for Lent. Not because I feel I must, nor because I consider it some absolute devotional requirement, but because I find it helpful and useful as a spiritual discipline.

This ‘little fast’ reminds me of Jesus’ forty days fast in the desert, where he was tempted. That in itself is good reason to pursue this disciple.

But more than that, the idea of ‘giving up something for Lent’ is about forsaking for a season things that speak of this world, this existence, this reality and allowing ourselves therefore to focus on a different world, existence and reality; that of God’s Kingdom.

However, something else has struck me this year; that voluntarily giving something up for Lent sets limits and boundaries. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with (for example) eating chocolate or drinking wine or having a coffee or whatever. Giving something up as a spiritual disciple is simply saying ‘just because I can, does not mean I need to’. Just because I can have a cup of coffee, bar of chocolate, glass of malt whisky etc does not mean I must have one. I need not be driven by my every desire but can choose to refocus my attention and energies and – indeed – desires.

Of course, such limitations are in themselves limited! Most of us tend to only give up relatively small things (although they can feel big!). And it is only for six weeks. What’s more we have voluntarily and freely chosen these limits.

I still struggle to get used to the limitations posed by my health (and these limitations are gradually increasing). But while I can choose to accept or resist these limitations, resistance can only go so far, and I have not chosen the underlying limitations in the first place. Naturally, I would much rather they did not exist!

But this – for me – is the added dimension to choosing a voluntary limitation for Lent. As well as the spiritual value, it also gives me a feeling of being able to choose rather than have limitations imposed upon me by an unwelcome and unlooked for health condition.

There is a lot for me to think about in the Lenten season.