September/October 2017

Prayer as contested space

contested spaceAnthony Towey

Recently a friend invited me along to Broxbourne Zoo. It was a damp day, I had a runny tummy and a cranky toddler in tow. The last thing I was expecting was a spiritual experience, but suddenly I heard a loud roar echoing round the skies. Since I live under the Heathrow flight path, I assumed it was a jumbo jet, but at the same instant, my friend began ushering the children: "Quick" he said, "it's the White Lion." Disbelievingly, I followed, and within seconds I was confronted by an awesome creature, who looked round regally and with effortless languor roared again. Close up it was like a sonic boom: my rib cage shook, one ear went deaf and I instinctively took a step back nearly taking out a passing couple with a double push-chair.

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Luther's favourite epistle

favourite epistleAdrian Graffy

In the five hundredth anniversary year of the Reformation, Adrian Graffy takes a fresh look at Martin Luther's favourite epistle. The author is a priest in the Diocese of Brentwood.

"The Epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Katherine."1 One might have expected, quite reasonably, that it would have been the Letter to the Romans which gained first place in Luther's affections. Salvation by faith in Jesus Christ is after all its strongest focus. But even a superficial reading of Galatians quickly shows why Luther preferred Galatians. They are of course sister epistles, Galatians the earlier writing, and Romans written later. But Galatians was written in the heat of the moment when Paul discovered that his way of preaching, his gospel proclaimed to the Gentiles without the burden of the Law, was being undermined by emissaries from Jerusalem and from Antioch, while Romans, without doubt Paul's greatest composition, was written calmly some time later to a community he did not know, a community to whom he wished to present himself and his enormously influential understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ (Rom. 15.16).

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Part of the Divine or apart from the Divine?

divineFleur Dorrell

In this article, the writer invites us to reconsider the biblical notion of holiness through specifically chosen texts. While affirming the sacred transcendence of God, the argument proposes a renewed sense of the holy in the life of the faithful. Fleur Dorrell is Scripture Development Co-ordinator at the Bible Society.

What can the Bible show us about recognising and experiencing the holy in our lives?

Is holiness defined as separation or wholeness?

Is our understanding of the holy to draw us closer to the Divine or to remain apart from the Divine, forever held at a holy arm's length1? Is holiness defined as separation or wholeness between the Divine and its relation to people, places and objects and between the sacred and the profane? In order to explore these notions of separation and wholeness I will consider how holiness is experienced within select biblical texts. I believe that there is a false dichotomy created between the holistic nature of holiness, and the significance of holiness as being wholly other, experiential and beyond categorisation. 

In 1917 the German Protestant Theologian Rudolf Otto, in his study on holiness, Das Heilige2, maintained that ' "Holiness" - "the holy" - is a category of interpretation and valuation peculiar to the sphere of religion. It is, indeed, applied by transference to another sphere - that of ethics - but it is not derived from this'.3 Rudolf Otto's understanding of holiness is as a phenomenon of subjective human and spiritual experience, it is unique and unequivocal. Therefore, I have chosen four biblically reported 'holy' experiences that help us explore this in more detail:

a)    Moses and the Burning Bush at Mount Horeb - Exodus 3.1-15

b)    Elijah in the cave at Mount Horeb - 1 Kings 19.9-18

c)    The Annunciation to Mary - Luke 1.26-38

d) The tearing of the Temple Veil at the time of Jesus' crucifixion in the Synoptic Gospels - Matthew 27.50-52; Mark 15.37-39; Luke 23.44-46.

I have selected these passages from the Pentateuch, Prophets and Gospels4 because they illustrate what is a 'holy' experience, as manifested through the reports of two men and one woman

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Many storytellers, one gospel - and now one lectionary

one gospelThomas O'Loughlin

The 1969 lectionary is one of the greatest fruits of the Second Vatican Council - and one that has affected the worship of countless Christians outside the Catholic Church. But do we appreciate the lectionary? Do we value all its possibilities? Do we even think about it? Thomas O'Loughlin is Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham, and President of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain.

The opening lines of Luke's account of the central events of Christian faith do not strike one as being of great interest - certainly it would get a low score if submitted in a modern class in creative writing as neither grabbing the reader's attention nor conveying the kernel of the message in a sound-bite! But if we look closely at it, it may give us a key to understanding how we are to use his text, as well as those of Mark, Matthew, and John. Here it is:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us ... ... it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you ... . (Lk. 1.1-3)

There are two points to note in this. First, Luke does not use the word 'gospel' to describe his work - he calls it 'an orderly account.' Second, he takes it for granted that many have compiled such accounts. Now we know that Luke saw Mark's book, but had never seen Matthew's nor John's account (it was either written later or circulated in a different network to those Luke knew). Therefore, the accounts he mentions must include many works in addition to those that have survived in our bibles. Why is this important?

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A listening Church?

listeningChris McDonnell

This article recalls the National Pastoral Congress held in Liverpool in 1980, when the future of the ordained priesthood was not considered an issue. The coming Synod on Vocation to be held in 2018 will surely need to address the shortage of priests, and listen to the 'Easter people', writes Chris McDonnell, a retired Head teacher from Staffordshire.

Pope Francis, addressing the Commemorative Ceremony for the 50th Anniversary of the Synod of Bishops on 17 October 2015 stressed that 'a synodal church is a listening church, knowing that listening is more than feeling". It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn.' He went on to say that 'The synodal process starts by listening to the people, who "even participate in the prophetic office of Christ", according to a principle dear to the Church of the first millennium'.

It is not a practice that the Church in the West has followed in recent years, at least not as a shared experience. The vast majority of those who profess themselves to be Catholic Christians, those we have given the label 'laity', have grown accustomed to a one-way exchange and were expected to accept the teaching of a much smaller and socially restricted group, our bishops and priests. For so long, the listeners have had no route to offer response, no means of positive exchange, no option other than to adhere to a given principle. We have been passive in our acceptance.

The significant milestone came with the gathering of the Second Vatican Council. In so many ways it set the tone for a Church that needed to come to terms with a rapidly changing society. Unless we recognise the milieu in which we now find ourselves, we will be unable to respond to the challenge it presents.

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