I would like to thank the young people for their leadership of our service last week. It was a genuine reflection of the significance and centrality of the Communion service to our congregation and our Christian faith. They lead us back to where it all began as an invitation and a welcome to gather as a "community of strangers" (my words) around a table. The reflections from the congregation encouraged all of us to value this time we spend together.
And it is a good lead-in to the service today. What was it that we had in common as we ate and drank together last week? Well of course the bread and grape juice; the place, the building; the set table and the people, some we know well, others who are new friends. I thought it was particularly moving when we were invited to share with someone we didnt know so well. While all these elements were present, the most important and unseen was the presence of the Spirit.
We can use that word 'spirit' in many ways. Team spirit; a loving spirit; or a way of capturing what we value a spirit of hope, courage, resilience, forgiveness, wholeness and so forth. And each of those and many more are the ways the invisible Spirit is expressed. It was in that spirit of hospitality which was present last Sunday as we shared together (and I pray is present whenever we meet together as we are today) that the Spirit shapes our ways of being together.
The Spirit and Wordlessness
Like many things in our world and lives we can tend to "overspeak" them. It is quite natural to want explanations as to how things work and how we can make them work better. We have Strategic Plans; goals and objectives; rules and regulations and many other ways forming and giving meaning to our lives and our life together. But seldom do we recognise the wordless ways that there are in our world and that are often more powerful than our capacity to articulate them. There is a deep wordless truth that seeks expression in our lives and actions.
Just a few quotes to flesh this out. Joseph Campbell the great mythologist said,
People say that what were all seeking is a meaning for life. I dont think thats what were really seeking. I think that what were seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.
I think that is a wordless experience of the Spirit of God; The Spirit of life drawing us from the periphery of our lives into the centre.
The Irish poet W.B. Yeats said, "Life is a mystery to be lived not a problem to be solved."
And the poet John Keats from his poem "Ode to a Greek Urn", shifting the focus a little, 'I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of Imagination- What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth' A passage that has dominated philosophy for almost three centuries.
The Power of the Wordless Prayer
These words echo the passage we read today from St Pauls letter to the community in Rome.
We all know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, and we groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, and the redemption of our bodies.
Elsewhere the apostle has encouraged us to prayer without ceasing. That is a wordless prayer. Prayer at its centre is not the recitation of words but the wordless expression of our deepest desire to be at one with the divine. I hope that doesnt sound too esoteric, or too even too simplistic, in fact it is the opposite. My experience is that there are many times in my life when I dont have words to express what I feel or even what I think. I am reminded that a baby can express very strongly what they want without words even though we wish that words would make it clearer to us.
So this is where we make the shift from clinging to the form of, say, doing what we have always done. Or relying on our good planning and management to get us through. To opening our lives to the unpredictable winds of the Spirit and trust and faith that that Spirit will bring us alive. Says St Paul:
the Spirit supports us in our limitations; for we really dont know how to pray, but the Spirit intervenes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is in the mind of the Spirit...
For many of us that can be a fearful thing. Of course it is at the heart of the Christian faith, because it is the Christian faith, not the Christian plan or the Christian fact. Faith is trust and trust calls each of us to let go and experience the uncertainty and unpredictability that is the Spiritual life. Faith that is certainty is not trust. As St Paul says of hope:
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
I would go as far as to say that there is no overall plan for our lives. The Spirit in collaboration with myself is in fact writing the script as we go. And it is often a wordless text that is embraced moment by moment when we sense that we are living into our own hearts and the life of the Spirit.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."