God is Love; and love enfolds us, all the world in one embrace:
with unfailing grasp God holds us, every child of every race.
And when human hearts are breaking under sorrow’s iron rod,
then we find that self same aching deep within the heart of God.
Timothy Rees, the author of these lyrics, was a monk, Anglican bishop (appointed to serve the See of Llandaff in 1931) and a popular writer of hymns.
This is a hymn I have probably sung a thousand times, but last Sunday, when our Director of Music, Eric was playing, and we were all joined in singing, the second verse really grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. It is as good a summary of my theology as I have ever seen. It is funny how something so familiar can grab your attention in a new way. Over the years I have worked more and more at my own core ideas about the christian faith. Here they all are, written up in meter and set to music.
Firstly, God is love: that springs right from 1 John 4, my favorite passage of scripture, and the verse goes on: "love enfolds us.” And love does not just enfold us, but the "whole world", including "every child of every race.” This love is not exclusive, it is for all people, whether I like them or not, whether I agree with them or not, whether they are different from me or not. In the middle of that image of inclusivity there is another essential idea: that the loving grasp of God is unfailing. Many people let us down on a daily basis, but the Love of God does not let us go.
The hymn does not just stay with these simple and easy ideas about indefatigable inclusive Love. It remembers that life is not all sunshine and roses. When our hearts are breaking, when we face darkness, or some crisis, we can be assured that God is present in our suffering - feeling what we feel - empathizing - because he knew heartbreak when, in his life on earth, he was rejected, persecuted and killed. God entered into our lives through his son, so that we might enter into the life of God and find there an understanding heart.
Thank you for your music choices Eric - thank you for your words Tim. Thank you all for being a loving community at Transfig.
What does it mean to you to be well? Does it mean your body is healthy? That you are experiencing no symptoms of illness?
Many of our notions of health revolve around this idea. For much of the 20th century, as we moved towards ever more technical proficiency in the field of medicine, we have also narrowed our definitions of health. Health became that which we could treat physically through medical science. It became about curing diseases and alleviating symptoms.
So that had an impact on the way in which we felt prayers for healing should function in church. This has caused confusion. Fueled by some branches of Christianity that do practice 'healing prayer' as a kind of magical means to alleviate symptoms, we have a sense that what we should expect is a cessation of physical infirmity after we have participated in healing prayers, and if we don't, then something has gone wrong.
But as I have already said, I think this definition of health is too narrow. When I was looking for more expansive definitions I found this in the preamble to the constitution of WHO - the World Health Organization:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.*
I love this definition. It is expansive, it has room in it for a variety of disciplines to be included as part of the healing arts and it reminds us that we are not just our bodies and our health is not just about symptoms.
We are physical, mental and social. Health has to do with communities, economics, science, therapy... And faith.
The only thing missing from the wonderful WHO definition of health is 'spiritual'. I don't blame them, but for me this would be the perfect definition of health:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
In this sense, everything we do at church is intended to encourage health. But once a month we offer particular prayers for healing. These prayers take place in the side chapel, and include powerful Christian symbols, such as anointing with oil and laying on of hands. We pray for the whole person, and their community - loved ones who are also struggling. We pray for spiritual strength in the face of adversity, we pray for healing and wholeness. We believe that God answers every single prayer, but the method of her answer may be different each time, and may or may not include the relief of symptoms.
Personally I have received healing prayer every time it has been offered. I never tell the person praying what I am asking for, as I believe God knows - but I am always amazed at the way the gentle and respectful prayers of the healing team lift my spirits and bring a sense of the presence of God to me more closely.
Come for prayers today, and know that you are loved by God and by your community.
*Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948. The Definition has not been amended since 1948.
It is our name day today – a day full of the divine vision of Jesus on the mountainside surrounded by prophets and humoring his sleepy disciples. But as I was preparing on Monday for today, reading the text and beginning to think about it, one thing jumped out at me.
Before we get to the amazing vision the gospel writer takes time to tell us that Jesus went up on a mountainside to pray… again. There are about 7 instances in the Gospels when Jesus goes up on a mountainside to pray. Sometimes he goes alone, sometimes he takes his disciples with him. This seems to be his habit, and in today’s Gospel reading he seems to be trying to pass the habit on to his disciples. They are not very good at sticking with him in these moments. They fall asleep as they usually do. They will do so again on his final night of prayer on a mountainside in the garden of gethsemane, the night before he is killed.
I wonder about what the disciples thought as he took them to the mountainside? “Oh, here we go again, another night of boredom sitting quietly and looking at the sky.” They kept on falling asleep, but didn’t understand that this was the space in which Jesus regenerated his spiritual energy and mission focus. Perhaps they didn’t quite realize that they needed this also.
On this occasion though, the silence of his prayer is interrupted by a corporate vision. They all see it, somewhere between wakefulness and sleep. Perhaps, for a moment, the inner world of Jesus, and his experience on these night time mountainside prayer sessions, can be seen by everyone around him. Perhaps, for a moment, they are able to enter into his inner world.
It is transforming.
Where is your mountainside? Where do you pray? Why not come and join me in two weeks at Bishop’s Ranch and see what we see together in prayer?
From the UK, Matthew loved US culture from the first time he picked up a Fantastic Four Comic when he was 12.