Aelred's October Letter, 2006

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in Human-ness

The September warm sunshine - not too hot and not too cold, and with the additive of rain - has enlivened the fuchsia which had found the first half of the year really quite inclement and not to its liking, but now makes quite a little display by the front door. (You must forgive this slightly larger picture than usual as it avoids the graininess of a reduced photograph but without being overweighted in web kilobytes by a little manipulation!) Now, to move from the approach of Autumn in 2006 to the far-off days of 400 years ago.

In a huge and splendidly readable book, entitled Reformation: Europe's House Divided, 1490-1700, Diarmaid MacCulloch notes that 'Protestantism had settled down into dogmatic patterns dependent upon public community worship. But he points out that 'a craving for a more personal, private religion emerged in many different contexts in Protestant Europe.'(page 699) The Quakers and, in a different direction, the High Church Laudian movement which sought to recover catholic elements rejected by the reformation, and many others in Europe, sought to fill the gap left when the contemplative & mystical element of monasticism was lost in the dissolution of the monasteries.

But throughout the history of the Christian church there have been times when an undercurrent of 'protest' at the seeming institutional aspects of Christian worship has ushered in new developments of prayer either in common or for individuals. Whatever the reasons behind the rise of the early hermits in the 3rd-4th centuries, or the flourishing mystics such as Richard Rolle and others in England, as well as on the Continent, in the 14th-15th centuries, there was a recovery of personal 'contact' with the centre of Christian faith and practice in the everyday elements of life.

However, as the history of these movements suggests, pietistic personalism, (as again illustrated in the 19th century evangelical movement in England), can regress into formalism, losing touch with the humanism of our lives.

It is a burning question today when the Christian churches appear, to the 'outsider', to have lost contact with the lives of the majority of people. There is, of course, a deep agnosticism today about belief in God and a rejection of 'prayer' which seems to be manipulative and tending to magic, which appears to deny our 'grown up' 21st century responsibility for our own and the world's affairs.

It can be argued, though, (and not only in philosophical and theological terms), that humankind has often found within itself the reflection of what can only be called the 'divine'. Here, in the human-ness of our daily lives the Other can be responded to in ways which are true to us as persons. Within this reflective aspect of our lives there lies the seeds of response to the Christ who, as the gospels and the Christian eucharistic tradition assert, is present to the world in ways which touch the springs of human generosity and service.

Then, as Paul said, it may still be possible for everyone within themselves, at some point in their lives, to acknowledge that 'it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.' That may be seen by some to be 'mystical' and to have no contact with us as living in the real world. But looked at from a totally human perspective, from my life as a unique person, there is the uncovering of the potentialities of being human.

© Aelred Arnesen

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