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The photograph this month is of the park/recreation ground just 5 minutes from my new home in Hanwell, Greater London. One can just see the viaduct in the backgound which takes the railway lines from Heathrow and the West into Paddington station. In Cambridge I lived on a new 1980s estate, where there were no open spaces except the football pitches which separated the blocks of houses, and very few trees or local flora except what the City Council provided on the verges and roundabouts of the busy roads to the Science Park from the City. It was good being there for three years and a half with access to the University and surrounded by young people. But in retrospect it was always going to be an interim period for me while I read and wrote and came to terms with the huge change from living in community for forty nine years, first with the Franciscans and then in our Cistercian life at Ewell Monastery in West Malling. Hanwell could not be more different. There are old houses and a quiet environment, apart from the occasional planes off the flight path to and from Heathrow airport. It is a seven minute walk to the station and a 13 minute train journey into London. So I am settling down after a very easy move from Cambridge on October 8th. © Aelred Arnesen
Settling down? There is always a certain need for getting the daily living experience right for oneself, if possible. But it is perhaps a negation of the Christian's discipleship to be opting for settling down! There is a certain amount of hidden disquietness in living as a Christian. Particularly today when it is said that there are a growing number of people of all sorts who, at least privately, seek to look beyond their immediate material needs for some sort of transcendent quality to life, Christian faith has to be honest and deliberately inquiring as to what and why we believe. For instance, we have benefitted from a century of deep scholarly enquiry into the scriptural writings. It is extremely sad that some Christians feel threatened by these reasoned disclosures. There are others who feel that while the results of biblical scholarship should be accepted, this cannot mean that we should also have to look at some of the traditions of the previous centuries.
When we look at the style of Jesus' life as reported in the gospels he seems to have been not only a man with an immediate agenda to proclaim the rule of the Father which was to be inaugurated in his own ministry, but also a person who in many ways was willing to re-think many, if not all, of the cherished traditions of Judaism to which he belonged. But while any institution needs laws by which it can govern its life the church has always needed to look how far the laws of preceding centuries may have eroded the central law of love and compassion. If conscience is to mean anything today, Christians must be open to truth as lived out in our settling down situations in the world of the 21st century rather than that of the first century or the succeeding centuries. If the atheists of today have any grounds for their disquiet about religious faith it is surely in the realm of Christians and others being tempted to set their doctrinal laws against human conscience which has love, goodwill, compassion and reason on its side.
Christian faith and life is about true relationships - with Jesus as risen Lord and in him with our neighbours. The question may be not, 'How can I accept traditional Christian teachings in the 21st century?' but, 'If Jesus is Lord, how do I seek to live out the truth that I have found in him, for the sake of my neighbour?'
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© Aelred Arnesen