Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)

Occasional Letter - Advent 2014(click to download PDF)

The Rector writes ...   

On a recent Sunday, a bidding prayer was misread, asking God to offer more “poets” to the witness of his Church rather than “prophets”. It wasn’t a bad petition, and it came to mind at a concert organised at the Wigmore Hall last Monday which marked the Immaculate Conception. The music was glorious (as expected) but the texts of the motets, taken from 15th century English sources, were extraordinarily beautiful. Not for nothing was this country renowned as “Our Lady’s Dowry” before the discontinuity of the Reformation, and poetry offers its own access to the great mysteries of life and faith. Certainly the language we use in our liturgy (prayers, Scripture readings, hymns) needs precision, but the merely prosaic is in itself a barrier to genuine communication: if God is the definition of beauty, then the words we use to speak both to and about Him need to reflect that fundamental dimension.

Hopefully attitudes are changing, but there is still in many minds an apparent incompatibility between faith and science, between the poetic imagination and empirical analysis. Brian Cox, the personable academic turned television presenter, wrote recently that there ought to be no contradiction between the two approaches as they concern themselves with differing realities: the one seeking to ask “how”, and the other “why”. Galileo (born 1564) could write: “mathematics is the alphabet with which God wrote the world”, while a more modern thinker, Ludwig Wittgenstein (born 1889) holds that: “to believe in a God means to realise that the facts of the world are not the whole story. To believe in God means to realise that life has a meaning”. Perhaps the simple answer is that faith and science are complementary, the one needing the other to give a rounded interpretation, or as Saint Thomas Aquinas says: “I would not believe if I did not realise that it is reasonable to believe”.

The Gospels according to Saint Matthew and Saint Luke both contain accounts of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. As with any record, elements are seen from differing perspectives, and the scenes depicted on many of the cards we send to one another at Christmas, as well as the much-loved Nativity plays acted out by our children, rely on an overlay of the imaginative, rather than purely historical bases. Should this concern us? Of course not, if one accepts that the poetic is a way of approaching and interpreting truth. The Incarnation is the profoundest of mysteries, and God’s presence in his chosen “cradle of redeeming love” (John Seward’s title for his lovely book on the meaning of Christmas), goes way beyond our comprehension, but the intimacy which is revealed demonstrates the Divine search for authentic relationship with those he has created.

According to the 17th century spiritual writer, Jeremy Taylor: “a religion without mystery is necessarily a religion without God”. So much that happens over the next two weeks is an invitation to enter more deeply into the Christian mystery. That is true for ourselves, but it can also be true for many of those around us who genuinely question and want to understand the nature of belief. Wednesday’s Carol Service, and the Masses of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, offer an opportunity to encourage others to join us as we stand before this "mystery of faith”.

Christopher Colven