Monday, 6 June 2016

A life's journey

Our understanding of Paul as an apostle to the gentiles is layered with generations of interpretation of the Road to Damascus event.  Very little attention, in Parish settings, is given to Paul's own understanding of his life in Christ and what that meant for him as a person of faith as well as a 'fanatical' member of the Jewish religious authority.  The brevity of his own autobiography in Galatians (Gal. 1.11-24) with its no frills descriptions does not lend to an imaginative understanding of Paul.  Yet, this is the very journey that each person embarks on from their baptism in terms of their faith.

Paul was brought up into a Jewish tradition and educated within that system.  His faith formation was within the family and within the Jewish community.  In baptism children are brought into the Christian faith family through ritual and an understanding held by parents that God has called them to enter this faith path on behalf of their child.  In order to assist them with this task, which has grown more complex within a secular society and age, the faith community encourages them to draw into the life of the child (God)parents who act for that faith and God's call,  Just as Paul was surrounded by his faith as he grew into the man that he was to become so to do we ask parents and Godparents to surround the child with the Christian faith.  In doing so they bring the child up within the foundations of that faith just as Paul was brought up with in the foundations of the Jewish faith of his time.

Part of that faith journey is coming to understand what faith means for us as individuals and as collective communities.  In today's society we consider our faith journey to be one that is centred on the individual.  In some ways this is always true, however it is the community that orientates those who wish to explore their faith.  God parents and parents are asked to do this as part of an intimate community so that the child can proclaim that faith as they take their own vows and promises when they come to what confirmation. We fail our newly baptised if we bring them into the Christian family with failed metaphors and poorly understood messages of the Gospel.  We are continually pulled away from those things that nurture our beliefs by secular society.  Society which undermines our faith journey, a society which is very different to the one that Paul was raised.  Paul was succoured by the faith in which he grew up he was not disorientated by society but nurtured in his faith within society.  Something we tend to lack in today's world of big business, greed and consumerism.

We learn new things from our faith journey if we follow the signposts to God.

Yet, even Paul came to what we would perhaps call a crisis of faith as he propounded the tenets of his Jewishness with zeal.  No matter what occasioned this crisis within his faith journey itis obvious in this portion of the epistle to the Galations that it was a profound turning in his understanding of God and of God's presence in his life.  Unlike Luke's rendition of the experience Paul obviously took is time to come to grips with this understanding and how it affected his own spiritual and faith journey.  It was not an instant turning into an Apostle to the Gentiles but a three year journey into his own faith and what it meant for him.  He did not give up his Jewish faith, he grew in that faith and achieved an enlarged understanding of his life in God and in Christ.  So we as a community must of necessity follow this same path or like many we become stagnant mires that entrap us further and further confining us on a narrow theistic journey which turns out clones from one generation to another without fulfilling the Christian calling.

As a child we are fed things that we can consume and understand but as we grow we are able to cope with other diets that bring greater understanding.  Our children today have a greater knowledge of the world and we should be able to feed them in a manner that they can grow spiritually without confining them to a morbid and incomprehensible faith journey.  However, we neglect our lifelong learning that we utilise in every other sphere of life as we turn to our faith and spiritual development.  We continually fall back on the food of our misspent youth to inspire our new spiritual appetites, something that falls far short of what we require for healthy growth.  We lack often the spiritual environment in which Paul thrived or at least an environment that inculcates self understanding and expanded learning of our spiritual selves, not only as individuals but also as communities.

As a community of faith we require the faith understanding of Elijah's widow of Zarepeth to go out knowing that God is our goal not that which points to God.  Too often we remain stuck with the words of our tradition without questioning where they arise from and from what agendas they have been created.  The Psalmist and elsewhere in the Scriptures we are repeatedly warned against taking the word of those in authority but rather base our judgements on what God is telling us.  In other words our focus should be God.  We interpret all things but let our interpretation contain the spark of God that is formed within us rather than our own wants and needs which clearly take us away from the path that leads to God.

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