When I get depressed, I get angry with God. It’s like ‘From those who have not, even that which they have will be taken from them’, because when I most need to be in communion with God, I am most bound up, and unable to speak to God. I would rather stay in bed for another half an hour than get up and do what I know would do me good, which is say my prayers. But then, saying my prayers, the negativity that is associated with being depressed makes me say things like ‘Oh yeah! Praise God! Well it’s all very well for you!’ So I can’t even take comfort from what I objectively know to be true: that I am loved. So it means that the thing that I am supposed to do, I don’t do, and the thing that is supposed to help, doesn’t help. What’s the point of that?
So then I have to go into the church to put something in the vestry. I walk through the chapel and see my prayer desk with he prayer book and Bible and lectionary unopened at the right day. And so I look to the ceiling like Luke in ‘Cool Hand Luke’ and say ‘Well God, you know I’m avoiding you! I’m angry because of X,Y, and Z and I am bound up with spiritual and emotional constipation! And you know that I don’t want to avoid your company, but that’s just how it is at the moment. What’s going on!!!. And the dam bursts and a moment of truth happens, and I go back to work and prayer.
But then the other thing happens. I go regularly to say my prayers. I read the Bible, say the canticles and the psalms. Words jump off the page at me. “Look at that image from Isaiah” I say. What an amazing thing! To think that someone thought that up as their hope. The prophets are full of them. Or recently we had psalm 52 that helped to make sense of Jesus’ saying “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.’ The psalm says (v.7) ‘But this is the one who did not take God for a refuge, but trusted in great riches and relied upon wickedness.’ ‘Ah’, I say ‘so riches can be a displacement for relying on God. No wonder the rich West has lost its religion.’ Then the psalmist says ‘But I am like a spreading olive tree in the house of God’ What is that? Where did they plant olive trees in the temple? I have not seen any pictures of that!
Anyway, the images of the Bible are just so rich, they jump put and seem to grab my imagination. A regular reading of the Bible keeps its contents before me for contemplation and gives me plenty of food for thought. And sometimes it is during the saying of prayers that an image from the psalms or a word from the bible or canticle will really ‘speak’ to me.
So I notice a pattern. Sometimes, it is what I am asked to do as my duty, also becomes the place of my joy. Saying may prayers according to the prayer book is the thing that really keeps me up to speed with God. That enriches my soul with imagery or gives me new ideas for understanding the Bible. Sometimes it is the long term placing of my prayer concerns before God in the regular payer times that keeps these issues on the ‘slow burn’ and helps them to be attended to. But sometimes, these regularised forms don’t deliver. Sometimes I need to be able to go into the Church at any time, or be caught talking to God while going about my other business. This is like Moses being drawn aside to look at the burning bush. ‘Ah, what’s that’ he says, and all of a sudden he has to take off his shoes because he is on holy ground. That I know.
But both parts are important for me. They are like the foreground and background of a single picture. Sometimes the intensely personal moment is in the foreground, but it depends on the chapel’s being there, it depends upon the ‘absence’ of God in the unopened book for this moment to ‘catch me’ unawares. Sometimes, when life is rolling along, the intensely personal moments go into the background, and a kind of comfortable routine intimacy characterises life with God. So that’s how it goes.
But then I notice this pattern in other parts of life too. Sometimes the Eucharist on a Sunday morning just goes on like ‘bread and butter.’ But sometimes a moment of illumination happens. Sometimes while saying the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving I feel the great privilege of being a priest. Sometimes during the intercession I am moved to tears at the sadness of the world, or joy at the fact that someone whom we have prayed for has recovered from illness. Sometimes I pray earnestly for a pure heart, sometimes I am aware of my sins so much in the confession.
But then at other times, this happens. Before I was married, I used to eat my evening meal on my lap in front of the TV. Now, I am asked more and more to come to eat at table. I naturally resist this change. But then my spouse said to me ‘You know, when I prepare the meal it is like the Eucharist. I want us to sit down and talk together without the television. I want us to think of this meal as a Eucharist.’ Well, theoretically I have known this all along. But it’s when she said it like that that I was convinced! So now I don’t mind sitting up to table. (Sometimes we have pizza or comfort food in front of the television still though).
Again, what is important for me is not the separation, and the making of polarities between ‘Real Eucharist’ (a meal at home) and ‘Sunday Eucharist’ (the symbolic form of it), but the holding together of the two elements of the one gestalt (picture). Both elements inform each other, and sometimes one is foregrounded and sometimes the other. But to be able to recognise the value of both of these elements: the formal ‘covenanted means of grace’ as they have been called, and the informal moments of breakthrough or intimacy with God or other people is important for me.
If the people who said ‘I find God in Nature’ recognised their dependence on there being a ‘God whom we find in Church’ then they would both go bush walking and come to Church and be the richer for having not put asunder what God has joined together.
This is also why just coming to Church on a Sunday is, I think for modern Christians not enough any more. In times when we are more of individual people than we ever were, and when society sustains the background of our Christianity less and less, we need a deeper practice, and a deeper connection to God to sustain us, as well as the formal structures that provide the walls of our faith.