Here’s the final talk that Martyn Goss gave at the retreat I attended. Once again, plenty to think about, ponder and pray over.
“Your faith has made you whole. Go in peace…”
Writing nearly five decades ago in a popular book called ‘The True Wilderness’ the Anglican monk Harry Williams pointed out there are two threats to our true humanness. One is the danger of isolation, the other absorption. Isolation brings with it a sense of aloneness, neglect, lack of human contact, insignificance, low self-esteem. Absorption means anonymity in a crowd, following the mob, unthinking consumerism, becoming a statistic, being ignored.
“Isolation, absorption. Being human means being poised between these two anxieties, these two threats, each of which is felt as capable of exterminating us. And that is the ultimate threat: extermination, the triumph of non-being over being”. (p.126)
That was written in 1965. Read this today with the threats of extinction being brought about by Climate Change and once more we can feel powerless and paralysed by fear.
But there is always a larger picture to be considered. We need to view all things as holistically as possible. Often we must let the scales fall from our eyes, open them afresh and review what we see. And our hard hearts need softening.
Our society is in great danger of fracture and disintegration. The institutions of the past are looking increasingly irrelevant for the future. Our democratic structures are ironically both immature but also outdated. Decision-making is apparently more distant than ever, whilst the gaps between wealthy and poor, ‘have-a-lots’ and ‘have-nots’ are increasingly wider. Economic processes dis-empower our local communities as money haemorrhages away from peripheral regions to fuel the global corporations and international finance organisations.
Yet in the midst of these immense challenges there are small and emerging signs of hope, of small communities taking back control to make them healthier and more whole. I think of small-scale food-growing projects or schemes which address food/fuel poverty. I think of community energy initiatives and localised currencies. I think of parenting courses and relationship enhancement opportunities. I think of the re-emergence of sharing land such as allotments; cultural kitchens and community festivals; developments in more holistic health care and the re-discovery of traditional skills (such as coppicing and walling).
For me these are examples of people struggling for community healing and wholeness.
None of these are panaceas to the huge challenges we face, but they are signs that as our older post-industrial society decays, new life can emerge from the debris. We can, I believe, rebuild communities from below that help us to re-connect, share our gifts, develop our responsibilities and demonstrate something of God’s love in our midst. The Spirit works through the world as well as the church and her fruits are love, justice and hope.
To become more whole we need to break down the walls of isolation and reject the chains of absorption. Wholeness means becoming more complete people before God – personally and collectively. It means recognising the depth of the human potential in the face of superficial addictions and distractions – rejecting fears of difference such as xenophobia, and constructing bridges between and across communities.
We sometimes fall back on change saying its ‘not traditional’ – look at our odd attitudes to pews that were only installed in churches five generations ago, or our objection to women in leadership positions based on medieval assertions. There is always a tradition before the tradition, and this takes us back toward the priorities of early Judaism and the early Church, with their emphases on equality and the common good, the wholeness of the Earth and the integrity of all life before a loving God.
Wholeness calls for change – changing ourselves and changing our lifestyles.
So my final question to you is:
WHO OR WHAT GIVES US A DEEPER AND MORE PROFOUND SENSE OF WHOLENESS?
Does this/they help break down barriers of isolation or absorption?
Where is the Spirit at work bringing wholeness and hope at this time?
How do I share this sense of wholeness with others?
Please acknowledge Martyn Goss as the author of these reflections if using them elsewhere. My thanks to him for his permission to reproduce them here.
Image from tuckahoepress.org