DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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I Don't Pray
by Paul Walker

I found Jesus compelling. I thought Christianity was radical, just what I was looking for. I bought in. I joined. I "became a Christian". This was to be a total change of lifestyle - although in reality it amounted to little more than no swearing. I would stop swearing and begin to pray.

Prayer, I was told, was the oxygen of the faith. Without prayer I would never "grow". How could I speak about the divine if I never talked to God? How could I do God�s will if I never listened?

This was prayer - a two way conversation with the Almighty, a massive privilege to be in contact with the maker of the universe. Prayer was beyond talking to the President of the United States or even one of the Beatles. This was contact with the big one.

And so I moved on. I was accepted for ordination, and went on to be a curate, a church planter, a national preacher of the year, vicar of a big suburban parish. I have preached many sermons on the necessity of prayer.

Only - I could never really manage it myself.

God knows I tried. Spiritual directors gave me ideas. I tried Augustinian, Thomist, Franciscan, and Ignatian methods. I even tried a Swedish method which was not as much fun as it sounds. I sat in silence; I gabbled in tongues; I attended reflective masses and a Bible week in the Dales.

And through it all there was an unspoken fear, a possibility that few Christians like to admit - that I was talking to myself when I prayed. Was I clapping with one hand?

I well remember once waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because I was not praying. How could my ministry progress without this essential element? And of course the reason for my disquiet, I convinced myself, was that I wasn�t praying hard enough. Occasionally, I would manage what seemed like a decent bit of concentration for over ten minutes. But it never worked the next day.

For some years I found consolation in the alternative to prayer which the Church has invented for its clergy, the Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer). But I was a failure at this, despite the fact that I proclaimed almost weekly how crucial prayer was.

My lack of prayer became a constant worry. Was my failure harming me? When I was child I feared that a bear would get me if I stood on a crack in the pavement. Maybe God would do the same if I didn�t talk to him as I should.

That is, until about two years ago when I made a life-changing decision about prayer. I gave it up. It was a hell of a lot easier than stopping smoking. I decided that since God was so rude as to never answer my questions, never to tell me what was on his mind, never to suggest how I could do his will, I wouldn�t bother. If prayer is a two-way conversation why did I do all the talking? And when I listened God was silent.

At the same time in my reading I was beginning to wonder whether there was a God "out there" at all. Whatever God was, there was only one place we were ever going to meet and that was somewhere deep inside - deep inside me and deep inside other people.

If God was in other people then conversation with God did in fact work because God could answer in and through others. If God was in me then surely trying to be in touch with another being "out there" was missing the point.

I became aware that there are many times when I�m alone. I run for about three hours a week. I often find that before the day begins I lie in silence for over half an hour thinking. When I first step into my study I simply stop and contemplate the day ahead. When the day draws to a close I think back over it.

I have always done these things, before and after I "became a Christian". They are not prayer as it is usually described. They are moments of self awareness; they are a breathing space. I realise that these are the times when I have always been in touch with God within myself.

I don�t pray.

That I don't pray has not made me a better person. But then neither did prayer. In contrast, I feel close to God when I recognise the divine in others and in myself.

But I don�t pray. What a relief it is! I realise now that to be me, I don�t have to pray. At last I have unburdened myself of one of the many things that my personal Christian heritage caused me to feel guilty about.

Many years ago I realised that I didn�t need to be in church to find God. And, as I now discover, I don't need the tool that the Church insists I use to sense God's presence.

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