Monday, 21 May 2007

Ecological imaging of church and society

I'm fascinated by the complexity and diversity of human communities and organisations, and the way they interact, varying from conflict to collaboration. In th search for relevant contemporary images, I stumbled across something obvious, relating to the 'God's garden' metaphor used by Saint Paul. It gave rise to this reflection for the Pentecost edition of the City Parish Journal. I want to elaborate this when I've done a bit more study and reflection on ecological ideas.

Although arriving just as we expect summer to begin, the celebration of Pentecost posses more of a springtime mood. The gift of the Spirit transforms the disciples into ‘apostles’, meaning ‘people sent with a purpose’. They find motivation and confidence to move out from their native Palestine, along the trade routes intersecting there, to take the message of God’s love for the world to all people. It’s a new start in the history of the world’s faith, as people in new situations and cultures discover the universal relevance of the message of Jesus, and learn to live by trust in God through him.

This outward movement never intended to impose a fixed formula, nor to promote a particular brand of religion, although sadly this was all too often what happened. The Gospel proclaimed afresh in a new situation begins a dialogue about the meaning of life, about God and being human. Around these seeds propagated, new faith communities arise with their own identity and character. If many of them have similar appearance, this is because of cultural similarities between them.

The more Christianity has spread to different parts of the world, the more we’ve seen quite different expressions of the church emerge. Within cultures like ours too, new ideas, different movements of thought have led to church diversity among people bound by common language and geographical setting. It’s all as rich as the bio-diversity found wherever you look in nature.

The authentic expression of that unity for which Christ prayed at the Last Supper is variety bound together by love expressed in unanimity of compassionate action. The ‘narrow’ way of Christ does not have the safe uniformity of a pavement, but rather the beauty of a countryside path formed by both people and creatures which use and inhabit it.

The Spirit fully revealed at Pentecost is ‘Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father’ (in the original credal text). The Father is the Author and Source of life, the Spirit conveys life - that’s how we recognise the life’s presence, the difference between animate and inanimate objects.(Having said that, even inanimate matter, rocks and minerals are capable of being changed into something else, even if it is as a result of external forces, rather than from within themselves.) No institution or human edifice, however ‘full of life’ or capable of simulating life processes, can compare with the way life is manifested naturally. The Spirit in Creation constantly points beyond, to the Creator. As J. Manley Hopkins said : “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

A Church, true to its Lord, exhibits this ‘natural’ diversity, always pointing beyond itself to the Source of Being. And, we belong to it as ‘members of one another.

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