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Our seven wonders

02 January 2015

"CHRISTIANITY is in the first place an Oriental religion, and it is a mystical religion," are the opening words of Olivier Clement's patristic anthology The Roots of Christian Mysticism.

At the start of the New Year, and with Epiphany (and the arrival of the Magi from the East) in sight, this perspective holds challenges for those of us who live out our Christian lives within the Church of England.

First, we should remember that the point of us is the worship of God. Not mission, not pastoral care, not buildings - not even witness to the nation. All those are, or should be, by-products of worship. Worship alone needs no justification. It is what we are made for.

Second, we should recognise that worship is nourished by, and nourishes, the mystical life of Christian believers. We should be producing not zealots, not ecclesial bureaucrats, not even too many clergy, but God-seekers: individuals and groups who thirst for God, and who seek freedom from the compulsions that feed violence and egotism.

Third, we should see that faith is not trite. It does not need captions, and tweets, and little slogans; nor does it need to market itself in advertising-agency prose and graphics. It is accessible to everyone by being what it is: the mystery of the Word made flesh.

Fourth, we should learn from other faiths: from the utter transcendence of God in Islam; from the domestic rituals of Judaism; from the diversity of Hinduism; from the detachment of Buddhism. We also need to take secularism seriously. While we should be alert to the distortions it can create, it is also our critical friend against the abuses of religion.

Fifth, we should accept the provisionality of the Anglican way. We are only a small part of the whole, what Evelyn Underhill once called "a respectable suburb in the city of God". These days, it might be best to drop the aspiration to too much respectability.

Sixth, we should build on the real strengths of Anglicanism: our scriptural liturgy; our quest for theological balance; our moral seriousness; our reticence and moderation. We do not need to imitate the greed and superficiality of surrounding culture by constantly striving to be new and different - a bit of Celtic spirituality here, and a dose of American mega-church there.

Seventh, we must remember our Christian brothers and sisters from the East: those who are being persecuted; those who have been murdered for their faith; those whose homes and churches have been destroyed. It is shameful that our political leaders are so silent (but thank God for Prince Charles).

We should remember that we have no faith except for what has come to us from the East. Christianity is in the first place an Oriental religion, and it is a mystical religion.

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