Archive for May, 2018

On God and Love and Prayer

Posted: May 23, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

A couple of Sundays back we returned to some of the ideas Thomas Jay Oord shared at Cafe Theologique back in March. I very digilently took notes and then very clumsily lost them, so I’m afraid I will be reflecting on what I can remember, rather than faithfully recording what Simon shared and we discussed.

The first thing Oord says is that God is spirit and so cannot directly effect the material world. I have never really thought of God having a corpereal form except in Christ, so on one level this doesn’t come as any kind of surprise, but saying that spirit cannot interact with matter has all sort of consequences for how we understand and live out our faith. It is a powerful reminder of our responsibility to be good stewards and good neighbours – if “Christ has no body now on earth but yours” (Tereas de Avila) then we must act in the world on his behalf – but it is not clear what it means for miracles.

How can an eye or a leg grow back if God cannot work with that tissue? Do our cells have a kind of consciousness that God can speak to? Or do all miracles have a rational physical explanation that has nothing to do with God at all? I have absolutely no idea [EDIT: not quite true, I have a very definite idea that miracles are of God, even if I don’t know exactly how] but I do wonder if saying that God is spirit might not be the same as saying that God cannot interact with matter. We take our body/soul dualism from Greek philosophy, but Jewish thought seems to have a more integrated view, and so perhaps spirit and matter are more interconnected than we know.


In case the picture wasn’t enough of a clue, the second thing Oord says is that God is love and that love is always uncontrolling. That God is love is unarguably one of the central tenets of our faith, and that love is uncontrolling seems to capture something we instinctively know about love, but together these statements add further challenge to the idea that divine sovereignty means that God is in control. That may feel uncomfortable and disorientating, like taking away a safety net or leaving everything open to chaos, but I was interested to find that when I looked for verses from scripture about God being in control, what I got were verses about God being faithful and holding authority. God can still be engaged and working out divine purposes, without acting like the Almighty Micromanager.

And surely we must say that God acts (whatever that looks like) in ways that are liberating rather than coercive, or we find ourselves with a Divine Dictator who looks nothing like the Lord who is gracious and compassionate, and nothing like the Christ who washed the feet of his dicsiples and gave himself up to death on a cross. As Bishop Curry reminded us, there is power in love, but it is the power to redeem and to transform, not to control or to manipulate.

[By the way, if you’ve not seen the sermon from the royal wedding yet, go watch it and then put it on repeat and pin it to your fridge.]

So I am totally with Oord on his second point, and I’m most of the way there on his first, but I am still working through everything that it all means, not least for the way I understand prayer. My experience and my reading of scripture tell me that I live in dynamic relationship with God, so that while I can no more coerce God than God can control me, God hears my prayers and is moved by them and can respond to them. That is a wonderful thing, but it does leave me with some tricky questions about what is happening when God doesn’t seem to be responding.

Simon presented one possibility, which suggests that because God works through influence and collaboration and not direct action, God’s will can be thwarted. There is a scriptural basis for this in an odd story from Daniel 10, when the man with a face like lightning who appears to the prophet says that he was delayed by the Prince of Persia, but was able to helped by the chief of princes, who the context suggests is a kind of territorial spirit. This suggests that God may want to speak and act through agents, but these may be prevented by things that are happening in the spiritual realm, and perhaps in the physical realm too, if we can also be agents of God.

I appreciate that there are a whole host of possible repsonses to this idea, and I admit that mine are mixed, but I do think there is something strangely comforting in the idea that God is trying to heal and to comfort and to renew, it just doesn’t always happen because there are things that are stopping it. It doesn’t lessen the pain of disease or depression or disaster, but it does help me to think that those things are the symptoms of a broken world which even God must negotiate, and not the collateral damage left by a God who powers through creation and ignores its cries.


Thinking Again About Mental Health

Posted: May 17, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Last year we briefly considered mental health as part of our series on inclusion. We never expected or intended to cover everything we needed to know in a single evening, but rather we hoped to start a conversation in order to make clear that we want to be a safe space in which people can acknowledge and talk about their own mental health. Moving sentness to an evening slot was our first practical response, as it aimed to give more time and a more appropriate space for people to share in greater depth, including about their mental health if this was relevant.

It has taken a little time, but we are now coming back to the conversation, and we will be inviting in speakers with experience of working with people with mental health difficulties, in the hope that this may give us greater understanding and some more practical responses.

I am writing on this today partly to let you know where we are headed, and partly because this is Mental Health Awareness Week, and so there is lots on line and on social media at the moment. My expertise is limited to my own experience of depression and anxiety, which many of you will have heard about already, so for the moment I’m going to hand over to some other articles and resources that you may find interesting or helfpul.

Mental Health Awareness Week is an initiative of the Mental Health Foundation, so their website is a good place to start. Mind are alos good for information and support, and the Time to Change campaign aims to raise awareness and reduce stigma. CALM works specifically in the area of men’s mental health.

From a faith perspective, a number of Christian organisations have produced a Mental Health Access Pack with information about common conditions and practical advice on how to support people living with them. Inclusive Church have produced a Mental Health resource, which is currently in the possession of a member of revive whose identity eludes me.

Pray As You Go have produced a series of reflections for Mental Health Awareness Week. (Thanks to Emma for putting us on to this one!) We have used and recommended Pray as You Go in the past, so these may be well worth checking out.

Our very own Joelle is passionate about the role music can play in promoting good mental health, and Mind explains why. A number of us play as part of the West Leeds Music Centre, and these local music centres a great play to start (or restart!) engaging with music.

When I shared my own history of poor mental health last year, I suggested that we need a more nuanced understanding of healing which sees God in coping as well as in cure, and I also talked about the need to be a community of care and hold space in which it is safe to be vulnerable. I still hold all of that to be true, and I hope it may lay some of the foundations as we come to talk about mental health once more.



Ignatian Roundup

Posted: May 3, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

This isn’t about some kind of spiritual weedkiller, but a chance to bring together all of the blogs from our series on Ignatian Spirituality.

We started with Ignatian Spirituality 101, a look at the life of Ignatius and some of the basic principles of spirituality in general and Ignatian spirituality in particular.

We then moved onto Ignatian Desire, or at least Ignatius’ ideas about desire and why we need to recognise and listen to our soul deep yearnings.

At the mid-way point and then again at the end of the series, we introduced some methods of Ignatian Prayer, which centre on contemplation and imagination and an openness to the Spirit.

Next we thought about Ignatian Living, specifically the principles of poverty and chastity and obedience, which have far more to offer than we may expect.

Finally we looked at Ignatian Discernment (and more!), the more including ideas about vocation and finding God in all things.

I’m sure I haven’t done Ignatian spirituality the justice it deserves, but I hope this has been an interesting exploration into a different tradition. I have been enormously blessed by my engagement with Ignatian spirituality over the past seven years, and I hope there may be some blessing in it for you.

If you want to dig deeper into this tradition, there are lots of resources online. The websites Ignatian Spirituality and God in All Things have lots to offer, and Pray As You Go and Reimagining the Examen offer apps which may help build a pattern of prayer. If you really want to get hardcroe with it, you might like to look into the Spiritual Exercises, which can be done as a thirty day retreat or a retreat in everyday life.

I leave you now with two prayers by Ignatius of Loyola, giving thanks for all that his rich prayer life has to teach us.