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This Present Age

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It is bank holiday again! This weekend used to be part of the Whitsun festival but the variation in the timing of Easter finally sundered the two bits of the holiday apart. Perhaps there is something to be gleaned from that fact. Something about the relation of church to the age in which we live. The present age, as one of our friends put it, has no need of God.

It is well known that the roots of this state of affairs goes back a long way into the past and that the present so-called secularization of society in Europe is perhaps to be seen more fairly as the boot being on the other foot in today's world. For in the past - up to say the early nineteenth century - society was, in one way or another, ruled, by dogmatic code and spiritual power, by 'church' in all its varied forms of popes, godly princes in Europe, kings by 'divine' right and lords of the manor in England. Now the plebs call the 'tune' and the church is, apart from traditional ceremony, a forgotten cause, at least on the part of the majority of the population.

In the past, looking from within Christian faith and fellowship, it must always have seemed that the 'rest' are surely benighted so as not to see how reasonable it is that God is the alpha and omega of all that we do. But that is a delusion in the present age. From within our 'secular' society religion of any kind must appear as an optional extra for those who seek shelter from the realities of daily life. We are being challenged now to see Christianity in relation to the whole positive reality of today's achievements and hopes. For it is in the midst of this secularized world that the Lord is at work, drawing women and men to himself in silent and more permanent ways than was the case of that Christendom of the past when whole populations were 'converted' to the God who seemed to many to be lawgiver and judge.

But it was in those days of ecclesiastical barren-ness that new shoots sprang up. One of these was the mystic Julian of Norwich in the 14th century. They were, in many ways, loyally seeking to come to terms with a church locked in ecclesiastical pedantry. Something similar is true of Christians today with the difference that now that the ecclesiastical bonds round society have been burst, we also strive to see ourselves as part of a greater society of God's cherishing of all peoples and nations and tongues.

And the Lord showed me more, a little thing the size of a hazelnut, on the palm of my hand, round like a ball. I looked at it thoughtfully and wondered, 'What is this?' And the answer came, 'It is all that is made'. I marvelled that it continued to exist and did not suddenly disintegrate; it was so small. And again my mind supplied the answer, 'It exists both now and for ever because God loves it.' In short everything owes its existence to the love of God.

(Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 5.)


© Aelred Arnesen

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