Andrew describes an encounter, illuminated by a feral (undomesticated) approach to questions that matter
A Discussion full of Grace
Every six weeks or so I do chaplain duty in the cathedral where I welcome tourists and every hour say some prayers from the pulpit. That morning had been dull, in fact distinctly boring with few visitors, and they all seemed to be glued to their headphones and video guide...
...glancing up occasionally at what was being described. Two teenagers approached me, a boy and a girl of about 15/16. They were part of a school group from Germany, who were studying for the German equivalent of A levels. He asked the first question: What is faith?
Golly, I thought, we need a seat to discuss this. So, we sat down, and I began to talk about my faith … but then hesitated. ‘This isn’t answering your question’, is it? ‘No’, he said simply. ‘OK, let’s start again. Maybe a good way to begin is to think about trust and loyalty’. ‘I wonder what’s behind your question?’
He told me that his parents were Muslim – Sunni Muslims - who always encouraged him to ask questions and to use his mind to find out for himself about life and faith. Then the girl spoke up – she was from a Baptist family, and explained her creed: ‘I always find it amazing and wonderful’ she said, ‘that somebody should care so much for me that he would die for me’. And then went on to describe what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection meant to her and how she trusted God’s activity in the world.
I was astonished at the quality of their English: it was amazing that they could talk about these deep things in their second language. Then we began to talk about the weight we put onto the Bible or in the boy’s case, the Koran, to guide our lives. I described a man called Richard Hooker who died in 1600 who lived through a very difficult period when there was much unrest and rioting in England between Protestants and Catholics. The Protestants, in simple terms, believed implicitly in the total authority of the Bible, whereas the Catholics put their emphasis for faith on history and tradition. Hooker – sometimes described as the Father of Anglicanism - said 'yes' the Bible is important, tradition too, but we need a third element for balance – that is God-given rational thought and reason. So we have three elements – Bible, Tradition and Reason to help us live out our faith. In the 21st century we may want to add a fourth element: our experience of Life.
By this time the rest of their school friends had gathered round the three of us, and were loving the discussion as much as we were - and really engaged with it. But it was time for them all to move on. We exchanged names: they were Erid (I discovered later that it means ‘knowledgeable’) and Sophie (wisdom); we shook hands and thanked each other and with a ‘God bless’, they were off.
This was a discussion full of Grace*, a meeting of different faiths and minds and it was one where each of us listened to the other with respect, and somehow all ‘knew that God was present in that time, and it was holy. It was a grace-full and trust-full conversation. I have been thanking God ever since.
* Christopher Jamieson in his new book: Finding the Language of Grace says we need to recognise grace, “the action of God in the world”, to rediscover the transcendent – “the dimension beyond the physical, the dimension so many of us now struggle to name”.
Comments about the site
Just wanting to say “yes” to this. You will be speaking for, and to, many. I will certainly be passing this on to others, and will contribute some thoughts myself later.
So, I was delighted to see Feral Spirituality make an appearance. I'd think you could find many wanting to join in