Friday, 1 August 2008

1. Spirituality

Spending three months without the burden of the Vicar persona has been liberating. I had forgotten in many ways how life changing it was to put on the collar for the first time - eleven years ago.

For most of the past twenty years I have lived alongside people who have tried to indoctrinate me into their favourite forms of spirituality - on the basis that their approach to prayer was somehow more authentic, helpful, Anglican, ecumenical, intelligent, contemporary or ancient. As an open minded person, I have generally gone along with everything I've been introduced to and often learnt a lot from it, but I am increasingly aware that my own sense of spirituality must remain my own. I can't borrow other people's.

Of course, I've had to do so to convince the Church of England that I am Anglican enough to be employed. So I've sat through interminable celebrations of morning and evening prayers which were little more than poetry readings. I've also endured the more informal "thought for the day" approach which doesn't do anything for me. As a clerical professional I've even delivered such things for other people - but were they authentically me? or was I just providing a service to someone else?

My sense of spirituality was nurtured within the charismatic and pentecostal movements. My childhood pattern of prayer is not based on written prayers, liturgies or books, but on an informal relationship with God, often expressed through simple songs. This basic spirituality remains core to my prayer life, although it has been marginalised by the need to demonstrate a broad-church Anglican Vicar Persona.

As a teenager I discovered ecumenism and began to work with Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists and Catholics. Before long, I didn't feel so welcome in my native tradition. It wasn't until I moved to Edinburgh and then Aberdeen that I began to delve into the Charismatic tradition in more depth; absorbing the key texts and histories of the movement. An encounter with Quakerism was profoundly influential. The concept of the inner-light and the need to listen for the authentic voice of the Spirit in community provided an important counterpoint for me to the more individualistic exuberance of Pentecostalism.

Deep in the bowls of the Queen Mother Library in Aberdeen I slowly constructed my own Charismatic theology based on the concept of faithful human action, creating space for divine engagement. It is not that we act and God must respond - or that the Spirit takes control - it is that we agree to work with God and he decides to work with us. The two strands of human and divine activity are mutually dependent on each other because that's how God wills it to be. I believe in partnership - a collaboration with God in ordinary life.

Praying in the Spirit is therefore mutually empowering. As we begin to speak, not knowing what to pray for, the Spirit provides the words, and it is as if God were praying through us... At the same time, God will not act unless it is in partnership with human beings. The same goes when we step out in faith, trusting God to guide our feet... Actions and words; God and humanity, interwoven in an incarnate mission...

I'm not asking other people to share my spirituality, because I recognise that everyone is different, but I would probably like a bit more space to live out my own spirituality during the next ten years, rather than other peoples...

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