Lincoln Advent: 16 December

Advent Prayers, 16 December
Furnichurch, Skegness

God’s home is now among his people.
He will live with them, and they will be his people.
God himself will be with them.
(Revelation 21.3, New Living Translation)

How does it feel to be the dwelling place of God?

Our whole Christian story is based on the belief that God not only dwells among us, but comes to share our human nature. All that we are is taken up into the life of God in Christ. But that is only half the story. When God comes to Mary, Mary’s ‘yes’ makes her the God-bearer. When Jesus is born in the stable, human life reveals the presence of God. When we are given new life in the Spirit, God becomes our very breath. We become God-bearers; our lives become a revelation of God.

These things are ‘given’ to us in faith. But this is Advent, and we know that we live in the space between ‘already’ and ‘not-yet’. ‘Already’ is the fact that God shares our life and wants our lives to proclaim his presence. ‘Not-yet’ is our ability to embody that fully – to know, truly and deeply, that we are the dwelling place of God.

Most of us carry voices in our heads that tell us we are not good enough. We can’t sing. We can’t dance. We are (cruelty of cruelties:) ‘no good with people’. Even if there are many things we know we are good at, there is usually some undermining fear: maybe this time we will be caught out. If we are not even sure that we are ‘good enough’ for the normal tasks of living, then how can we be the dwelling place of God?

To make a dwelling place is to make a home – to make a place where others are welcome. I read once (I cannot think where) that in order to offer hospitality, we must first feel at home ourselves. We have to have a certain ease with our place in the world, so that we can help others find ease and well-being. Part of the task of the church is to be a place where we can learn to feel at home – where we can experience enough of God’s love to let go of our fear of failure, and to trust that we might be (may be) the very dwelling place of God.

Jean Vanier says this:

To love someone is not, first of all, to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: “You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.” … To love someone is to reveal to them their capacity for life, the light that is shining in them.”

(J. Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p. 16)

We learn to trust ourselves as we give and receive trust from other. We come to feel at home, as God’s dwelling place, when we respond to the presence of God, dwelling in others.

Today we pray for Furnichurch, which helps those who would otherwise struggle to furnish their homes. Pray that through their efforts, more people will be able to feel at home, make spaces of hospitality, and come to see that they are the very dwelling place of God.

the original post is here.

nowhere but here

Kelvin is asking good questions again about the theology and praxis of The Church and Virtual Reality.  He sets out questions enough for several doctoral thesis, but it was this that caught my eye.  He says:

‘Prayer generally takes place in virtual space.’

And I thought, ‘does it?’ and then, ‘he may be right…’   I am caught somewhere between agreement and rebellion at the thought, so I thought I’d play out the question here.

Let’s start with the easy positives — the ways in which I could imagine talking about prayer as a virtual space.

  1. prayer — like cyberspace — creates, strengthens and sustains relationship even when we are physically absent from each other.  So, yes: a virtual space.
  2. prayer — like cybersapce — connects us across time.  Whenever we pray, we join in something that is already happening, in Christ, and in ‘the whole company of heaven.’  We join in when we can, as we can, and become part of something bigger.
  3. prayer — like cyberspace — creates its own environment, and that environment changes us.  As we pray we are drawn deeper into prayer.  The time we spend in prayer changes how we perceive and relate to the world at ‘other’ times when deliberate prayer slips into the background.  There is always the danger that we will use ‘prayer’ to avoid other forms of engagement, but this is not true to what prayer is, and if we pray well, it will lead us to more engaged action.  All of this does indeed seem very similar to what happens in online communities, and strengthens the idea that prayer is a ‘virtual space’.
  4. my sense of what happens in prayer is bound up with the idea that prayer starts and ends with God.  We are taken into prayer, into Christ, and although I believe that is a ‘real’ ‘space’ I will have to concede that it is also, technically, a virtual one. The body of Christ is not limited to (nor excluded from) physical presence.

But still, there are things that pull against the idea too.

  1. While prayer might connect us across time and space, we can only pray in a particular time and space.  Prayer is not served  by severing ourselves from our physical reality.  Honest prayer demands that we face distractions, emotions, sensations with openness to God’s presence there.  Sometimes, our physical reality will distract us.  Sometimes it will pull us more deeply into God’s presence.  But never is it irrelevant to who and how we are with God in any given moment.
  2. We are made in the image of Christ — in the image of God, who becomes human and takes our bodily existence into the divine life.  Bodies matter.  We pray as much through our physical actions, movement, stillness as we do through our attention, our thoughts and our words.  (all in agreement: please cross yourself now.)
  3. I believe that the gift of God in the moment will always trump the idea of God and the communion of saints across time and space.  I know that morning prayer is richer and deeper right now because each day, it has been accompanied by the first warmth of a blazing sun.  It is hard not to see this as grace, and I will experience it as such even though my rational brain says that the coincidence of prayer and sunlight can be explained (quite easily) otherwise.

So, does prayer generally take place in virtual space?  Sort of.  I will concede that that it does not depend on physical presence, and that it draws us into something that transcends the limitations of time, space and physical reality.  It has real effect on us without physical change.  But that is not the whole story.

Prayer is always embodied – in word or song, in stillness or breath. Prayer invites us to to meet God in the fullness of our reality — so that we pray from the whole truth of our lives, and all the lies too.   Even if, in my prayer, I am praying for and with those who are physically absent, I can only pray well if I am present to myself.  And that cannot be a virtual reality, or one which denies the physical self.

My hunch is that the question Kelvin asks is crucial, and that the very tensions of it will help us pray and relate better.  It is not either/or, but both:  virtual and real. Embodied, and transcendent of the limitations of time and space.

And — pace, dear Information & Communications chair — that goes for ‘virtual reality’ too.  The communities we create there are real as well as virtual, embodied as well as distant: a gift of God, pulling us into relation.