Stephen D’Evelyn–some questions for the Church

On New Year’s Day, the CofE ‘Worship’ Twitter feed featured some challenging words–challenging perhaps not for the reason intended.
‘May the Spirit renew us, warming our hearts & giving light to our minds; that we may pass the new year in joyful obedience & firm faith.’
The first challenge comes in the prayer to the Spirit in relation to us but without reference to the Father or Son. This sets up the assumption that an individual person can relate to God in a simple way as if God were just another person.
Such implied one-to-one relation with the Spirit may lead us towards the conclusion that we are spirits in a material world to echo the Gnostic-tinted Police song. It seems to me that pneumatic language ungrounded in the body much too easily allows people to coast along seeing themselves and others as disembodied minds or atomized selves. And perpetuating the division between hearts and minds–language found in the letters of Paul who of course was writing long before Descartes gave us the vision of the mind as separate from the heart part of the body-machine — unnecessarily continues traditions separating rational and intuitive thought, reason and feeling.
But there is no need on either historical or theological grounds for such a perspective of atomized self in authentically Anglican prayer. For one thing, the CofE still describes itself officially as ‘catholic and reformed’. (See for example: This seems to mean developing the corporate practices of worship of the Church universal together with a renewed emphasis on Scripture and personal commitment. But it doesn’t mean adopting the view of the person as alone. But there are broader concerns about the vision of the self as not only isolated but powerful. If our encounter with divinity is casual, there is every chance we will just be bumping into ourselves and each other. Getting beyond ourselves to allow God’s transforming otherness in requires letting go of our certainties. But the doublet of obedience and faith mis-describes the stance of humility and the life of trusting God which when really lived is rarely firm in the sense conjured most immediately by the word.
This distorts not only the view of God but also the vision of the human person. We need to be released from the pressure of living up to being certain, efficient, capable. We do not need to be that way to be part of the Church. To be Church means allowing ourselves to be lost, weak, in pain, and seeing how God works through brokenness to give us sorts of wholeness which go beyond our finite understanding of wholeness and which are only completed in heaven.
In the spirit of constructive criticism, we might turn from Twitter to a prayer of Gregory the Theologian (4th century Cappadocian Father) in the CofE’s Common Worship Times and Seasons collection of occasional prayers and bend flexibly in hope, looking to bring change and peace here and to find it hereafter:
I have a good hope because of thy word! O God, at whose command the order of time runs its course; forgive our impatience, perfect our faith, and while we await the fulfilment of thy promises, grant us to have a good hope because of thy word; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


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