Developing Capacity

Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House

Edward King, the saintly Bishop of Lincoln from 1885 to 1910, taught that the communion with God which we call prayer was natural to humanity. His approach to spirituality was a gentle one, which had none of the ‘going against’ asceticism of so much Catholic and Puritan guidance. For King it was a developing of a ‘capacity’ and an ‘aptitude’. He advised that we should use our wills, imaginations, and intelligence to develop this ability to know God and to be responsive to the Holy Spirit.

This is an invitation to each individual, and the first response must be one of simple love and trust in Jesus Christ. King’s key message throughout his ministry was to urge his people to be ‘Christ-like Christians’. Despite his own involvement in the church controversies of the time, he did not think that religious piety was the same as life in Christ. Indeed, in his later years he became rather tired of church and more engaged with creation: always sharpening his focus on the beauty he saw in creation, and the grace he saw at work in the people he met. His was a heart full of adoration and thanksgiving.

As we anticipate in our prayer and worship our celebration of the Incarnation of Our Lord we might well reflect again on its implications for our capacity and aptitude to know God. As we hear again the Scripture readings of the Christmas season we hear how God has come to ‘dwell’ with us, in our ‘flesh’, restoring the first glory of humanity in all its capacity and aptitude to know and be known by God. In the same Scriptures we hear and see creation alerting and guiding humanity in its search for God for ‘all things were made by him and without him was not anything made.’

King’s sermons are marked by a close attention to the person of Jesus in whose humanity he sees this capacity and aptitude pioneered and exemplified. He sees in Jesus God’s gracious dealing with humanity nurturing and guiding individuals to a fullness of life in which their capacity to know God is released and realised. Hence his favourite sentence from the psalms ‘thy gentleness has made me great.’ God his humble and gentle in his dealings with each of us.

In the Eucharist and in Holy Communion the mystery of the Incarnation – and our capacity to know and aptitude to share God’s life – is revealed in a profound way. King celebrated the Eucharist daily, and had a distinct Anglican view of its spirituality. ‘In our Holy Communion’, he taught, ‘God is not out or up there, he is indwelling – Emmanuel – God with us.’ At Confirmation sermons he often used the illustration of the manger. ‘when you hold out your hands to receive the communion wafer, you make a manger for Christ to be held; to be born in you.’