Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House
‘It is all about eternity’, so said a Priest friend of mine last week. We were comparing notes, in general terms, about Spiritual Direction. ‘It is amazing,’ he went on, ‘how few people consider death and what lies beyond it.’ I had to agree.
It is not that I recommend the contemplation of mortality as a regular spiritual exercise, but spiritual direction is not about being a ‘life coach’ it is more about being an ‘everlasting life coach.’ The aim is salvation for eternity, not the management of lifestyle. The purpose is to learn to live in the now in order that we may live in eternity.
In looking to our eternal end we stand on solid ground. To live with the reality of mortality is a prerequisite of looking to the things that last forever. That most gentle and Anglican of saints Bishop Edward King asked congregations to imagine being a guest at their own funeral, and then, in imagination, to stand at their own grave. His purpose was to encourage the lifting up of the mind and heart to: ‘Christ in you, the hope of a glory yet to come.’
In his ‘First Principle and Foundation’ to his Spiritual Exercises St Ignatius
begins with one fundamental principle: ‘Mankind is created to praise reverence and serve God and by this means to save his soul.’ In this month of November the liturgy of the church lifts up our minds and hearts to the ‘spiritual realm where Christ is’; the place ‘where Christ has gone before and opened for us a new and living way.’ The sequence of All Saints and All Souls, Remembrance Sunday and then the Feast of Christ the King anticipate the great themes of Advent: Heaven, Hell, Death and Judgement.
In too many cases the individual’s spiritual journey is several steps removed from the corporate life of the church. It is amazing to me how many people pursue a spiritual life in the Christian tradition without engaging fully in the liturgical life of the church. It is a disturbing sign of the times that the individual ‘need’ almost always trumps the responsibility of belonging to the Body of Christ. A consequence of this is a change of focus from the challenge and call of a ‘full Gospel’ to a pick and mix perception of the Christian vocation. The awful majesty of God and the prospect of ‘being known even as I am known’ is not as attractive as some fluffy Celtic Prayer Book about the ‘loving, surrounding upholding Creator of earth, sea and sky.’
I am not prone to cynicism but the assumption of many people seems to be that ‘I can get it right now’. As I often remind people: ‘we are nowhere near heaven yet.’ We live in a fallen creation; we have to life by faith in a life that is often confusing, dangerous and fearful. But ‘here we have no abiding city’; here we have only ‘a foretaste of the heavenly banquet,’ where St Augustine reminds us: ‘we shall rest and we shall see, we shall see and we shall love, we love and we shall praise in our end which has no end.’