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RABBITS

As I was driving t the early Eucharist up the steep drive to the church last Sunday, two young rabbits darted out. They seemed to be playing tag. I missed them.

Pat and I had watched “Miss Potter” on a DVD. It’s a charming film, although the actor who plays Beatrix Potter was an unlikely choice for the role: much too sexy!

I remember the sets of books I had as a young child. Living then in the country, the world given to me in sight and smell and touch, and through the lens of Moley and Ratty and Toad, Winnie the Pooh and Piglet and Peter Rabbit was enchanting and lovely. I can’t say that I had a happy childhood. Too much was going on in the lives of those around me, too many moves from place to place, complicated things. But it was an interesting childhood, blessed by the ancient churches which were points of stability in a roving life, and the beauty of my surroundings accessed by the use of an ancient and workable bicycle.

Perhaps that as why I have a sense of the holy. I hasten to say that I don’t claim this as a virtue or as something which makes me special. I merely say it as a fact. This sense of being surrounded by another world, (and it is a sense which is more than “feeling”), is acute during worship or when I’m saying the Offices, but never far away from my ordinary experience.

I suppose that is also why I have great difficulty understanding people who find the supernatural, miracles, doctrines of the church difficult to accept and experience. My lack of understanding does not preclude my having empathy for them. There are many things in life, including what is termed “Sport” of which I have no understanding at all. A great deal is said about “experience” nowadays. Some would follow the Methodists and add expeience to Scripture, Tradition and Reason. But the Tradition is experience, a collective experience of Christians through the ages.

I would suggest that collective experience is something to be looked at and respected. It is from the collective experience of the Church that we understand and define what might otherwise be subjective experience. “I feel ‘spiritual'” may or may not be an accurate statement. Like Scrooge, one may attribute it to a piece of bad meat uneasily digested. There’s a lot of dubious “spirituality” around nowadays. Some take courses in spirituality as if it were some separate and unique experience one may or may not indulge from time to time. Thus we have Celtic Spirituality -+Rowan Cantuar has some words of warning about that one – Benedictine spirituality and so on. I favor Prayer Book spirituality, a good alternative title to “Anglican Spirituality” a description open to all sorts of approaches and definitions.

“Which form of Anglicanism?”, one may ask. Are we talking about Anglo-Catholicism, old or new version, of Evangelical piety, old or new version, or Liberalism, Broad Church or the contemporary version? Each has a legitimate and often overlapping “spirituality.”

The Prayer Book in a sense narrows the field. Mind you it remains an enormous field, fertile and verdant, full of wonder and awe. Take, if you will, the spirituality of the two main Daily Offices, prayed carefully. By “praying carefully” I don’t mean with a mind always fixed on the actual text, although that discipline needs to be carefully observed. The prayers, hymns and psalms, the lessons, even the rhythm of the forms contain an abundance of meaning and relevance and opportunity for the mind and the imagination to take off. Consider the plea: “Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace.” Wow.

Mind you, as a naughty aside, I propose that these words are no more intelligible to a worldling than they were in a more ancient translation. Beauty of language, however initially obscure, defines religious liturgical discourse as something special and unique in a manner similar to yet profoundly different from the word patterns and vocabulary of football or computers. The similarity rests in the necessity to absorb and understand a specific vocabulary. The difference lies in the fact that religious language points to an experience beyond fact and beyond necessary comprehension. That is the world of doctrine, which never fully explains or comprehends but points us clearly and safely in the right direction. That is the world of miracle, in which we realise that what we term supernatural is natural and what we term natural is supra natural. The world of miracle is a world pierced through and through by God but which is not divinity itself. The Celtic idea of thin places is one way to understand that God is not constrained by what we call laws, but is necessarily free to do as God pleases!

We are told that there is a new phenomenon around. Young people seem to like Compline, surrounded by flickering candles, where they recite obscure prayers and sing ancient songs. What is here occurring is the natural response of some human beings to the Other. This challenges the bread and butter world of so many modern liturgical experts who seek to make liturgy something as easy to understand and follow as a recipe for pickled onions. Those whose experience leads them beyond the recipe are termed “spiritual” or even “mystics”, when they are in fact merely Christians employing a god-given faculty to approach the Holy. Spirituality is not some odd state reserved for adepts. It is the birth-right and promise of all who believe.

I do not mean to say that the words of liturgy, the words of doctrine, or the words describing what some term “miracles” are not to be taken in deadly earnest. They have teased and inspired the minds of saints and sinners, the wise and the stupid, generation after generation. One fails to do them justice if one consigns them to the world of mere metaphor and picture. There are a legion of brilliant minds among us who take the meaning contained in what we term “The Catholic Faith” -not Roman Catholic or High Church -in deadly earnest and cull from that Faith that which we need to know in contemporary life, to live in God and God in us. It is of necessity that such ideas and suggestions, such “laws” are “other” at first to our experience. Perhaps they were less “other” to me when I lived in the country and explored castles, and enjoyed the sense of presence and past in ancient churches. Yet even then, as a child, I knew all too well that I had a foot in each world, and one of those worlds, with its hurts and betrayals, insecurities and alternatives, tugged greatly. The other world was no mere escape. Its otherness was not a narcotic. In that world the truth about life and its problems were addressed frankly and sometimes searingly as what “is” confronted what “is also”. The “Isness” of God comprehended the “isness” of daily living, even the ordinary daily living of a child being brought up by a desperately unhappy single parent.

So there go those two young rabbits playing in the woods which surround this parish church. Their dance tugged at my heart and mind and for a second, the wonder of nature filled my heart with joy and brought me, metaphorically to my knees as I considered the work of God’s hands. “God’s hands?” Of course he doesn’t have hands. Don’t spoil the moment.

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