Friday, 19 October 2007

Holy, holy, holy?


secular oats
Originally uploaded by tchemgrrl
I'M thinking of becoming a bit more Roman Catholic. I quite fancy the idea of crossing myself. You know, like Brazilian footballers or Robbie Coltrane in Nuns on the Run. In fact, come to think of it, like last year's BU president, Roy Searle.

I fancy it because it seems like a good antidote to a problem that we have unwittingly created for ourselves; a problem that makes God a bit less real, a bit less significant. Let me explain.

One of the really good things that has happened in our bit of the Church over the past 20 years or so is that more and more of us have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of a sacred/secular divide.

We no longer like the idea that there are religious bits of the world that have to do with God and non-religious bits that don't. We've recovered something approaching a proper doctrine of creation.

I myself have argued repeatedly that we are just as likely to stumble across the divine at the multiplex as we are at the prayer meeting; that the world - every bit of it, including the human bits and not just pretty birds and big mountains - is God's world, not the devil's.

To the extent that we have moved away from a God who prefers hanging out at meetings to one who turns up all over the place we have become more biblical. Discipleship is indeed about living life differently, not living a different life.

However, I'm beginning to worry that we might have shot ourselves in the foot. The idea was that by ditching the sacred/secular divide we would see the world as more full of God. I fear that it might have had the opposite effect. Because we have fought shy of the explicitly religious, we just might have emptied life of God. In theory we find God everywhere. In practice, I wonder if we remember to make the effort.

Now, I'm not suggesting that we attempt to re-establish the old unhelpful, unbiblical dualism. No, my inclination is to start a campaign consciously and deliberately to do what we can to re-sacralise as much of our world as possible.

When the mainstream of society is more thoroughly secular than at most times in history, when the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is being driven from public life by the powers that be, the last thing we need is for Christians to collude in the process.

Hence my idea of crossing myself at significant moments during the day. But that's only one tactic. Let's get imaginative and find as many ways as we can to remember, express and embody our conviction that God is everywhere.

For instance, what about reintroducing explicitly Christian salutations in our letters? Why not greet each other in the name of Christ and bid farewell by commending one another to the care of God? Why not pray before car journeys? Why not stop talking about nature and start to speak of creation?

Why not get back to saying grace a bit more? Why not pray quietly as a matter of course before the start of our day's work? Why not extend the rather limited practice of the evangelical quiet time into a three times daily office?

Don't get me wrong: it's not that I think God isn't there if we don't invite him; it's not that God will not watch over us if we don't ask. It's rather that unless we pepper our waking lives with explicitly religious language and practices we are more likely to forget; more likely to act, and indeed think, in categories that leave God out.

In other words we might end up replacing a world divided into the sacred and the secular with one that is simply more secular.


My turn to do a month's worth of comment pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. I don't reckon I'm up to both a weekly newspaper article and a weekly blog post so I'm copping out. With the agreement of the editor I'm going double up and post my BT article. This means that the blog will have a slightly different feel. To chek out the Baptist times as a whole click here

The weekly poll will continue as usual.

1 comment:

Chris Swan swans@swansweb.co.uk said...

I go to a great Christian/Muslim dialogue group & one of the women there explained that Muslims say 'Bismillah' (in the name of God, most Gracious. most Compassionate) before doing anything of any significance.

I'm Chair of Governors at a primary school & when things are difficult for the school I'm not always sure what I'm walking into when I go throught the front door.
I'm trying to learn from my friends and say 'In God's name' as I cross the threshold.

I also like the Catholic idea of crossing myself with water (holy or otherwise!) - which I'm told by Wikipedia is a reminder of the waters of baptism - before leaving the house, as a remider that the God who knows me in the safety of my home also goes with me into the world. I'm sure ship of fools has a tacky water holder I could buy...