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franciscan - May 1999

© The Society of Saint Francis, 1999

Two Domes, One God

by Brother Bernard SSF

The controversy around the Spirit Zone in the Millennium Dome, and what should be included in it, contrasts with the apparent confidence expressed in the Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, surmounted by the Cross of Christ and sheltering a continuous round of Christian celebration. Can people today find God in one or both of these Domes?

Spirituality has become a talkable-about topic in contemporary Britain, at least in some sections of it. It covers a wide range of experiences: how we felt and acted when Princess Diana died; the effect on us of visiting a Mosque, a Buddhist meditation group, or a Hindu Temple at Neasden; the mood induced by plainsong or other spiritual music; the buzz at a gig; the expanded consciousness/astral awareness induced by hallucinatory drugs; the deep union of sexual intimacy; near death experiences; the ‘miracle’ of a baby’s birth; the sense of balance through Tai Chi or yoga; relaxation in awareness exercises; body development techniques; holistic health treatments; our experiences when gardening, or when in an astonishingly beautiful environment; centering; focusing on our inner attitudes and values in meditation or prayer; the non-measurable experiences through art, music, literature; the ‘something’ that some people seem to get from their religion.

Our Christian response to all this will take many forms. It will be based partly on our theologies and partly on our ignorance, fears and prejudices. Shall we jazz up our services, or in other ways try to make our spirituality more accessible? Shall we trust that the 1662 ‘early service’ or the High Mass with orchestra and professional choir will, in the end, draw people into the Mystery? Or shall we pursue some of these ‘non-religiously-specific’ spiritualities, to learn from them, to make friends with those involved in them and hope, at some point, to share Christian insights and experiences?

Let us look at a theology to underpin this last alternative. God is universal, immanent in all things; ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’ He has created human beings to share with him and one another the mystery of communion-fellowship: we are ‘beings in communion’. God makes himself known to those open to him through the wonders of natural creation, human experiences of love, the insights of prophets, and the revelations of holy people, through scriptures and, supremely in Jesus Christ, ‘the word made flesh’, ‘in whom is life, the light of all’ (John 1.3). This God is hidden and disclosed. By his Spirit, he works to enable people to know him. Yet he is more than any perceived knowledge. He is transcendent, a mystery beyond concept and name. St Francis of Assisi, in his Rule of 1221, chapter twenty-three, concludes his recital of the saving acts of God with the words ‘without beginning or end, unchangeable, invisible, indescribable, ineffable, incomprehensible, unfathomable.’ This God will be to us what we need, even though our false self-image makes false-images of God. But by his Spirit he moves us past/through such images into the love-knowledge of communion with the true and living God.

Where is the Church in all this? Christians exist to glorify God by cooperating with him that his Kingdom may come ‘on earth, as it is in heaven’; to enable worship and Christian fellowship; to keep alive the stories through which the Christ-like God reveals his character and name; to grow towards congruity (‘to live more nearly as we pray’) and to be a bridge by which others may share these riches.

What, then, about those under the other Dome? I believe many know God more than they know they do. I trust that, in the Last Day, there will be recognition as well as dismay. I believe that Christians with sensitivity and openness can sometimes help others into Christian experience and into naming the Name in Christian discipleship. But it seems that many today do not / cannot name him. This is my summary of faith – may I also commend to you a practical example of what I have tried to express above in the following article on ‘Enneagram Spirituality’? §

 

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