"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
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
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
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
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.