Friday, July 20, 2007

Inhabiting Scripture meme

Andy Goodliff has kicked of a meme from his blog. I normally give these a wide berth, they do seem a bit self-indulgent, but because (a) Simon Jones completed it then tagged me to do it next and (b) because this one might actually tell you something useful about me, I decided to do it.

Andy kicks it off with a quote from David Ford’s book “The Shape of Living”

... be alert for some key passages of the bible to inhabit in a special way. Hans Urs von Balthasar has said that often a saint's whole life can be seen as living out just one verse of scripture. One rich verse or story can be essential to our vocation, as we come back to it year after year, and find further dimensions to it. The great words, verses and passages of scripture and the liturgy are like houses which, as we study, pray, suffer and love, are made habitable with our own furnishings, pictures, meals and children ...'

Andy then invites people to “post that verse or story of scripture which is important to you, which you find yourself re-visiting time after time ... (you can make it two or even three, if you can't reduce it to one!).”

The passage for me is Isaiah 58 (and alongside that Matthew 25:31-46). It’s a powerful prophecy where the people who call themselves the people of God are diagnosed as having some kind of mass multiple personality disorder. Their holy days are times of great piety, that then seems to have little or no effect on the rest of their lives. When I first studied this passage at any length, it was this element that seemed most important, the clear sense of needing to live an integrated life, with the false divisions between secular and sacred removed, seeing God’s involvement in the totality of a life.

Later, as I lived with this scripture, it became clearer to me that this integrated life becomes the basis on which the kingdom of God grows. So a person is able to make a declaration of faith in Jesus, not only with their mouth, but also with their actions. I guess it was in the move from Lancaster to East Yorkshire, and the work on a deprived council estate, that these verses became more personal, more urgent, more guiding.

The move to Mount Pleasant in Northampton saw these two passages become the very foundation of a ministry, and were the guiding principles in some of the transitions we made there. Life needed to be integrated, faith and actions need to go hand in hand, it is in the act of caring and loving our neighbour that the kingdom is revealed, that as we love and serve, the darkness becomes like noonday.

I’m terrible at fasting, if we’ve met, this won’t be a surprise. But this passage reverses much of what I had previously understood about fasting, as it calls for a fast of doing, not a fast of going without. By acting as agents of mercy and grace, we fast for God. Instead of fasting food, we fast our pride, we fast our need for financial gain, we fast our comfort, our reputation and our preferences. We fast our advantage at the expense of another, and we fast our injustices.

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