March 2020 - Lent, Loss and Love


We've all been there, I'm sure...

Remember the day, as a teacher, that you thought, 'What are we actually doing here?' Or as a doctor, when you stopped and thought; 'What am I doing in this system, pulling people out of a river when someone is pushing them in upstream?' Or as a partner or spouse when the realisation dawned on you that the feelings you once had have now evaporated, and things are just not the same? Or, as a vicar, all you could sense is the absence of the one who was always present before, and that the scaffolding that has given some shape to the faith you confessed is disassembling all around you (just me, then?).

I've had the song 'Losing my religion' by R.E.M. rattling through my head for some weeks now. But, to be accurate, that is not really what is going on here. 

Many of us begin our careers (if we are lucky enough to have one) with the fire of idealism burning within us; or the fire of passion fuelling our intimate relationships. But fires not only wane, they turn out to be a poor choice as the foundations of a long-term building project. They might be the impetus, the thrust required, but this will only get one so far. After all the early excitement, we begin to simply show up to what is required of us.

Part of the problem, perhaps, is that, in the first stages of anything we are growing into, we are careful to colour beautifully within the lines, and are admired, congratulated and rewarded for our neatness and conformity. Then, over time, we grow up, gain experience, competence and agency; and then we 'wake up'! Like Neo in The Matrix, we realise that the lines within which we painted so successfully are now lines of control and limitation, and it can scarily feel like we've taken the red pill of waking up, of knowledge, rather than the blue pill of ignorance and denial (apologies to those who have not yet seen The Matrix films – think of it as homework!).

Religion can be a system of conformity as much as any other. We usually start our journey using the colour-by-number, creed-by-heart, medical book-from-memory method, and, important though that this can be by way of initial formation, if we continue like that, we will never become a free artist creating something beautiful. Imagine, after thirty years of teaching, if one taught as one did when first leaving college.

Losing our religion, realising that the first flush of romance is no longer sustaining our relationship, or becoming aware that one is treating only the symptoms and never the cause, the sign and not the system; these are all moments of profound movement from showing up, to waking up, to growing up. A crisis of faith in what we do is perhaps to be welcomed as a most important step on our journey to mature freedom. May I invite you to journey from colourist to artist, from conformity to a little anarchy, and to become a little more transgressive as you mature into your freedom. May this season of Lent be less the observance of the rules, than the observation of the spirit by which we awaken into maturity. It's not the loss of religion, but a release from constraint into into a new way of being.

Nick Bird

Your Rector

This letter from Revd Nick Bird appeared in the March 2020 issue of The Grapevine