December 2019 - Happy Christmas

Dear friends

For many, Christmas preparations will be well on the way. Whether it's crowding the lanes of the Designer Outlet, the aisles of ALDI or the escalators of John Lewis, shiny things will be being purchased and 'prezzie panic' will be setting in. Those temples to consumerism will be ready to smart us out of our money, and we, often so willingly, will part with a remarkable amount of cash (economics in place of emotions).

In the midst of this one also has to make space for the predictable letter from the local vicar who is professionally concerned to make sure that 'Christ is not being left out of Christmas', or that the sweet baby Jesus on your mantelpiece cards moves from there into your hearts (or something like that). There is the annual plea to move people beyond the 'Away in a manger' sentimentality (“Christian children all should be / mild, obedient, good as he” - pernicious Victorian propaganda at its most awful!), and those very familiar, if rather uncomfortable images, of the Virgin Mary, as played by four year old Emily wearing a tea towel and proclaiming her virginity to her grandparents and other nativity attendees, whilst Joseph projects two millennia of social awkwardness beside her.

So what of this, and other aspects of organised religion, touches the hearts of those who make their biannual church appearance (extremely welcome though they are)? The common phrase these days is the one that says, “I'm spiritual, but not religious”. This is hard to pin down, and is rather up for debate, but let's suggest that it means something like, “I have intimations of something beyond the immediate and the visible, which is personal and numinous, but it's all rather difficult to articulate, and doing something organised with other people on a regular basis makes me feel uncomfortable” (other definitions are available, and I'd be pleased to hear yours).

The question I genuinely wrestle with, especially at this season, is this: When the heck did the church become 'religious, but not spiritual'? Or perhaps that is a misperception. For two thousand years the Christian church has honed all sorts of methods of prayer, spiritual practices and rituals, esoteric and plain simple, to support people, searchers for the 'something other'. It holds a wealth of wisdom and experience with the simple purpose in assisting people to go beyond the notion of religion as a social construct. The scaffold of organised religion is there to enable to construction of a place of encounter and transformation, a touching place with the Divine, not that we might idolise the scaffold. 

We don't sell our 'best show on earth' terribly well perhaps, but there you have it. The eternal one who emptied himself into mortal flesh did not do so in order that we might inhabit dull religion. The little baby Jesus of our nativity plays humbled himself to share in our humanity, not that we might enact dull routine, but that we might come to share in his divinity. 

A very happy Christmas to you all.

Nick Bird

Your Parish Priest

This letter from Revd Nick Bird appeared in the December 2019 issue of The Grapevine