John Twisleton explores a vision of God

We live in a world with a yearning for adventure. This yearning can very easily be drawn into the realm of faith when its venturesome element is made evident. An important challenge for the Church today is the rediscovery of that venturesome element of faith.

Starting with the pilgrimage of Israel to the promised land, God’s people move forwards in fits and starts. Again and again God has to loosen them from apathy and unfaithfulness and reawaken their enthusiasm for the adventure.

Christianity is the greatest of adventures. It is a forward movement inspired by the grace of God, loosening us from harmful attachments, expanding our horizons and drawing us towards the vision of God in his magnificence.

Loosening the ropes

One of the attractions of eastern religion in our day seems to be in its perception of how spiritual energy is released through breaking attachment. People lose so much energy through attachments in the form of regret about the past, anxiety about the future and possessiveness in their lifestyle.

Jesus also calls us to detachment. Venturesome faith calls for a loosening of the mooring ropes of regret, anxiety and possessiveness. It is a looking to Jesus, a laying aside of every weight and the sin that clings so closely (Hebrews 12.1–2).

Where parishes provide ministry to individuals through sacramental confession or prayer ministry they facilitate this process of loosening the things that bind.

Just as spiritual direction benefits individuals, so the Church as a whole can benefit from identification of things that hold back the flow of the Spirit, as in a mission audit. For both individuals and churches the key to advance is a process of discernment involving both reasoned discussion and openness to a gift of supernatural insight.

Hoisting sails to the Spirit

Christianity is an adventure. It is a forward moving venture which cooperates with the God of our life. It is about ‘hoisting sails’ to the breath of the Spirit, and not always about ‘rowing harder’.

For many Christians the desire to achieve for God can actually become an obstacle to their spiritual development. We need to be brought time and again to our knees to seek a new vision of God more to his dimensions than ours, to become more fully his servant waiting for his orders before making our own plans to serve him. This is a fresh ‘hoisting of sails’ to the Spirit.

It takes both humility and confidence in God to hoist your sails to the Spirit and Christianity without either virtue loses attractiveness. Where servant hearts are lacking, self-importance repels people from our churches. Where people lack confidence in the Gospel church life is seen as hard work – galley slaves in a rowing boat, no hoisting of sails to the Spirit!

The Christian adventure is a journey with ever expanding horizons, an opening up of mind and heart to the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2.2–3).

Venturesome faith seeks ever-new insight from the scriptures, creeds, formularies and accumulated wisdom of the Christian tradition. In recent years there has been as flowering of so called ‘catechetical’ material facilitating an expansion of the teaching ministry, as in the Emmaus Course. Where such material has come into full use it has been through the clergy devoting energy to training and enthusing lay leaders whom they then authorize to share their teaching ministry using the new resources. Better Christian formation cannot be achieved without such investment in the teaching ministry.

As on the Alpha Course and in the Cursillo movement the value of a whole weekend’s engagement on a theme of spiritual renewal is well proven. It has been wisely said that Christian formation is less a matter of learning new truth but of a renewed apprehension of the basic truths of this faith.

Formation via frustration

Some of the most influential Christians bear evident disability or handicap. Unlike most of us they cannot for the most part please themselves. They are faced hourly with humiliations that throw them more fully upon the mercy of God and people.

Christian spirituality roots itself in the living Christ who, as scripture says, did not please himself. Our Lord is able, by his passion and resurrection, to transform our frustrations. Whereas people tend to store their frustrations so that they burst out in anger at a later date, those who make a life-choice for Christ can convey both sorrows and joys into his wider, liberating perspective. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4.11).

Paradoxically our churches make their influence felt most powerfully when they are associated with faith stories told from situations of suffering and hardship. The Gospel always reaches more powerfully from the weak to the strong than vice versa since a sense of need being fulfilled, of mercy granted, is infectious.

The magnetism of prayer

A basic law of the spiritual journey seems to be ‘the more you pray, the more you want to pray.’ It points to a magnetic process in which the desire for God grows through prayer as a bar of iron magnetizes in a magnetic field.

If there were no other factors in play Christian formation would be simple. In fact sin, lack of self-possession, anxiety etc, all work against our prayer. There is also the lack of personal satisfaction that everyone feels on occasion about spending time before an unseen God.

‘How long do you pray for each day?’ Someone once asked Archbishop Michael Ramsey. ‘Oh a few minutes, I suppose,’ the Archbishop is said to have replied, ‘though it might take half an hour to get there!’

The discipline of spending time before God is essential to our faith journey. Prayer is a ‘radiotherapy of the Spirit’ that burns out evil deep in the heart. It captures something of God’s eternal perspective by which it becomes possible to sift the important things that flow to us hour by hour from the things that are merely pressing.

Our Christian adventure is a movement towards the vision of God. When that vision seems obscure we need to come before him with the scriptures and ask for it to be renewed. God alone can grant us a vision of himself that is more to his dimensions than to ours.

Look to the Lord and be radiant invites the Psalmist (34.5). As we reflect more fully on God’s magnificence our prayer of adoration opens us up to his limitless possibilities and spurs us on, helping us look forwards to journey’s end when we will be like him for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3.2).

Pull quote

‘How long do you pray for each day?’ Someone once asked Archbishop Michael Ramsey. ‘Oh a few minutes, I suppose,’ the Archbishop is said to have replied, ‘though it might take half an hour to get there!’