God the Creator (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

As we saw in our last article there is Only One God; One Supreme Being who is the Creator – the source and life and power of all that we can see, touch, or feel; of all existence, animate and inanimate; of all life in endless variety and wonder; of a vast Universe with untold billions of galaxies, in which one of the smaller we are set. He is the Eternal God, the beginning and the end, described in the New Testament as “the Alpha & the Omega” (Revelation 1:8 & 22:13 ); the timeless One; yet also Our Father, with whom we have real personal bond, known by faith and sustained by Love; and with whom we are linked forever, in time and for eternity.

In this article we shall first think about the Creation itself, recognising that it has, along with its sheer greatness and grandness, a moral heart. In other words it is made for a purpose, with a good and wonderful plan, and a glorious final end. Creation, though beginning billions of years ago with what scientists call the big bang, is not a pure chance happening. It does not move in totally random, unsure direction with no certain goal. It is, as we know from the innate consistent dependable physical laws that govern it, the result of very definite design and meaning. It is the work, we believe, of a great Creator’s mind; the activity of God himself; who is forever intimately concerned with and caring of its entire life.

Within that plan of course is what we call Evolution. In modern understanding that process of evolution, taking place over many billions of years, far from denying Divine design and creativity, actually demonstrates the amazing genius, the great inventive mind, and unlimited power of God. As we come to faith in God, without which we can make only partial sense of creation and existence, we see that it is Divine Love that has both made all, and sustains all. That is shown all through the Old Testament, and supremely in the New, where in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, we see that Love at its fullest and most wonderful (John 3:16).

The Christian Faith, as do other World Faiths, asserts categorically that the Creation is GOOD.  The Genesis story of Creation states several times boldly and clearly that what God made was indeed both wonderful and good. He meant it to be wholly good, not something shoddy and inferior (Genesis 1:21). God does not deal in the substandard or second best. And God does not, and cannot create anything that can be described as evil or contrary to the good and his great Love. I have always loved the song “What a beautiful world” composed by Bob Thiele & David Weiss, set to music by Louis Armstrong (top of the charts more than once when I was a young curate!). Here are two of its verses:

I see trees of green, red roses too,
I see them bloom for me and you:
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue and clouds of white,
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night:
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
.

The Book of Genesis (began over 3,000 years ago by several authors, and later edited several times) is not a text book of geology, astronomical physics, palaeontology (study of fossils), or any other human or biological science. But it does present, within a framework of the highest religious thought of ancient times, a strong sense of Divine creative genius and power. And it proclaims the moral truth and purpose of Creation for all time. Creation Story is well thought out imaginative legend or myth, made in the only way possible for that era of human knowledge. Some see it as a poem of Creation, and like all good poetry, conveys truth and meaning and the truly beautiful. The Bible contains some of the world’s finest poetry; the Psalms; the Song of Songs; and countless passages elsewhere.

The tendency for some Christians is still to read and interpret sections of Holy Scripture in a largely literal way, failing to see that its particular genre and actual setting in ancient times and cultures must be taken into consideration. Remember that these were pre-scientific eras where myth, story or legend was usually taken as accurate historical fact and objective truth. Biblical understanding and interpretation today must take into account all that the wide fields of modern knowledge, the sciences and prudent literary criticism, have to teach us. Otherwise we do grave injustice to Scripture and fail to understand it properly, learn from it, and use it in the best possible way.

In this series we are thinking about the Nicene Creed, starting with the One Creator God who creates only the Good. So we have to ask what did go wrong in this good creation? There isn’t space here to explore the complex story of how our human species, homo sapiens, evolved over many millennia; and gradually developed a moral sense with awareness of right and wrong. Or, in the long distant past, the origins of human sin and evil, and all that is contrary to goodness and love. Genesis Chapter 3, in a poignant and telling legend, describes what we call The Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, choosing to go their own way rather than his. This falling away from the good and the best in human relationships, first with God, and then with each other, sadly affects us all. The Christian Faith proclaims the Good first, and then how God can indeed rectify our damaged moral state, and does so lovingly, faithfully and ceaselessly. So the next article will be about JESUS, how he and only he, can accomplish our SALVATION.

However, I want to stress again that the goodness of the whole Creation, and the essential goodness of all humanity, despite our many sins and failings, has never been destroyed or totally lost, however much it seems diminished at times. The Creed expresses our core faith that God in goodness and eternal Love never deserts us, but forever seeks to bring us back to himself, and to hold on to us, for all eternity. When we come to the Resurrection of Jesus I shall write something like this: “This central and wonderful truth of faith asserts that all creation is essentially good, for God made it so, and his plan from the beginning to the end, is to affirm its goodness and beauty, constantly restoring and renewing it through Christ. Indeed, all creation, everything around us, everything made and done for the good of humanity, every act of human love and kindness, reveals the life and presence and goodness of God”. (Genesis 1 again; Acts 14:15-17 & 17:24-28; 1 Timothy 4:4; James 1:17).

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever. Amen. Alleluia!

 A Song or Prayer for Easter Day or at other times

God, good Creator, please accept my praises:
Offered, dear Father, on this happy morning:
Death now defeated, life unending granted, heaven now wide open.

George Abell

Disaster

In hardship people seem to struggle and I’m not sure we get it right. Here’s an attempt to tackle the subject which is bigger than a small article, but runs on the lines an old friend helped me with years ago.

When devastating events occur in our lives how do we respond? How do we develop our attitude to the pruning-hook a heavenly Father takes to our life?

  • Consider the Lord Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before him endured (literally ‘stayed under’) the cross…’ (Heb 12:2)
  • Consider the apostolic command to:
Rejoice Rom 15:10
Rejoice at all times 1Thess 5:16
Rejoice always Phil 4:4
Rejoice when ostracized and hated Luke 6:22 & 23
Rejoice in being brought low James 1:9 & 10
Rejoice in constraints Rom 5:3
  • Or the examples of
Rejoicing in institutional persecution Acts 5:41
Rejoicing in being misunderstood 2 Cor 6:10

 

Is there a way to reconcile the ruin of a career, thwarting of ambition, disappointment of hope, the loss of relationship, the devastation of family, or the destruction of home with this New Testament focus on joy and rejoicing which are, after all, commands?

At the last supper (John 15) the Lord Jesus called his disciples branches of himself. He said that any branch bearing fruit would be cut off by the divine gardener in that very area of fruitfulness and his purpose would be for the branch to bear more fruit in the future. Herein is the core of the rejoicing that is necessary.

Every son that is received is chastised, Heb 12:6 ff. Indeed if we have not known divine chastisement then in this same passage, Heb 12:8, it is made clear, we’ve not been begotten of a heavenly father.

Therefore we should rejoice in tribulation, Rom 5:3, at all times, always.

Colin Slater

Editor’s note: Colin has opened a discussion in an important area. If you have any comments please feel free to make a contribution in the magazine.

The British Church for Two Thousand Years

At thousand year intervals events have occurred in these islands whose effects are impossible to remove even after millennia. The effects are malign and irremediable. Though the prophets of Israel indicate that Messiah will remediate cruelties as great as these when he appears.

Rome invaded Britain in 54 AD setting a colony here till 410 AD. The Roman Empire established a frontier across this island which was later consolidated to the wall by Hadrian. The presence of this Roman barrier affected the history of much of Britain and determined the history of the lands around it since. Rory Stewart MP in TV documentaries on this ‘Middle-land’ demonstrated the malign influence of this barrier on the economy and life of the north of England, and borders of Scotland, to this day.

(A strange feature to me of the Scotland devolution/separation question seems to be that Scotland is at least two countries; the Highlands and the Lowlands. And the Lowlands have much in common with the northern counties of England many of whose people look to Edinburgh and Scotland rather than England and London.)

Prior to the Roman colony the British king and leader of resistance to Rome, Caractacus, was taken to Rome for the emperor Claudius’s triumph*. The victims of a triumph were killed at the end of the parade in a public sacrifice. Caractacus was the only such victim spared in the history of Rome.

The reason for this unique clemency was a speech Caractacus made to the Senate. Caractacus had been betrayed to Rome. It remains true that a foreign power can gain hold of these islands only by the inhabitants being betrayed or yielding.

The legend of King Arthur, which is related around the world in folk-tales and stories, has some of its purchase upon the imagination from betrayal by a near, half-relative, Mordred. There is in this tale also longing for hope and freedom. A longing, nostalgia, for what might not have been lost had there not been betrayal.

In the tenth century the English, Saxon kingdom was an integrated society with mutual respect and cooperation between its strata. Education was promoted and was in English. The Scriptures were translated into English. Life was conducted in English.

The last Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, a Franco-phone, was pro-Norman, and loathed for his duties here. He promoted Norman friends and contacts within his country, circle, and society. There are Norman houses today that date from before 1066. He betrayed his Saxon country to the Normans.

Duke William obtained from the Pope encouragement to take Britain and impose Roman church practice on a country that was largely free of continental religion. So different from Rome was England that it took till the mid-thirteenth century to extirpate married clergy from England. British priests had always married, long before Augustine came to Canterbury in 597.

A later king, Henry II, was provoked by the Pope to destroy the Celtic church in Ireland as William’s successors had suppressed the English church, imposing Roman prelates and practice on the Irish. The story is that of another country but the malign influence of that treachery remains with us today.

Edward the Confessor was canonized. Rome would not have had a grip on the British church without him. The effects of the Norman Conquest cannot be rooted out now but its blight remains. A recent report claimed descendants of the Normans control the power and wealth of this country still1. I derive the ‘them’ and ‘us’ divide that has pervaded social and political comment in England for the last thousand years from that Norman-French take over.

Had the Franco-phone Edward loved his England more than his Norman home, history – and freedom – would have been different. The Harrying of the North of England in 1069-70 partakes of both these events; the Roman and the Norman legacy.

The theme of separation or integration into a continental power is again here a thousand years later. Maybe the same issues are at stake? And the same long legacy.

Ref 1 http://neilcummins.com/Papers/Clark_Cummins_2013.pdf accessed 10.5.16

* A triumph was a costly, public spectacle which gained its leader, by huge expenditure, publicity and popularity. The invasion of Britain may have been purposed to allow the emperor Claudius to claim a triumph and so improve his popularity. Colossians 2:15 uses the metaphor of triumph to describe Christ’s parading the principalities and powers to their imminent destruction at Calvary.

Colin Slater

We believe in one God

Exploring the Nicene creed

In this series of articles we are thinking about the important and central statements of the Christian Faith: i.e. the basics and essentials. So we begin with a brief declaration about God. That there is Only One God; one supreme being who is both Creator and Father, the source and life and power of all that we can see, touch, or feel: a 3-dimensional, living yet finite creation, with its (also finite) fourth dimension called time. But a Creator who is also the source and life of an eternal world, of which we can get only tiny fleeting glimpses with the eye of faith. It’s a world, that like God himself, is in a true sense, completely other and beyond us, yet touches us and impinges upon us as we shall see in a host of ways. This essentially is because there is yet another ‘dimension’ in creation called LOVE, which in all its depth and splendour and glory is made tangible and real in JESUS. Indeed God’s greatest strongest power is the power of Love. The power indeed which brings about and sustains ALL that there is. We shall look at this in more detail and frequently as we proceed in these articles.

There is a line in the closing scene of the powerfully religious musical “Les Miserables” which is very moving and true: “To love another person is to see the face of God”. St. John in his 1st Epistle put it like this: “… everyone who loves is born of God and knows God”. (1 John 4: 7). The world of our great Universe and Cosmos, and the eternal world of Heaven, are thus linked inseparably by their Creator. And that means that you the reader (and I the writer) are also linked in our humanity to “the life of the world to come” [the very last phrase of this Creed]. And that our Creator God and Father will never never unlink us. So though God is beyond and other, he is also in a true sense personal and knowable. We can therefore love him, and even more so be loved by him, speak to him, listen to him, and learn from him. We would expect that from any good father and mother, and God is just that in all perfection and measure, and in wisdom and endless mercy also. (See Luke 11:1-13).

However, we have still to acknowledge that even with our most enlightened human thoughts and words our understanding of God is very very limited. To begin with, as the Gospel of St John puts it “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”. (John 4: 24).  The passage of course is saying that the nature and substance of God is not like our human nature. His is a reality that we can only think of in spiritual but nevertheless real terms. Hence we can never fully and adequately describe God. If we could it would not be God but a human creation of our human imagination! We use terms like All Goodness, All Beauty, All truth (as great theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas did): or words like All Merciful, All Compassionate, All Loving, All Holy (as the Muslim Faith does perhaps more strongly than Christianity). And these are certainly helpful and point in the right direction. And are strong clear Biblical concepts or truths. But we have only scratched the surface of the incredible depth of the wonder, mystery and majesty of the Eternal God.

All these notions speak the language of faith; and the gift of faith is a most precious gift of God, given to those who will open their hearts and minds and reason. I stress the place of the rational mind, for I want to emphasize strongly that there is no conflict or divide between the scientific mind and approach to truth and meaning, and the religious and spiritual mind with its truths, the way it seeks those truths, and the things of the spirit. The scientific mind, whose task essentially is to discover tangible observable facts and truth, concrete empirical evidence, and so forth, deals largely with the how of things; leading to invention and application, and how the worlds and things work. The religious mind and the theologian (and all deeply thinking Christians are theologians) pursue another complementary path to truth, and speak of the why of things, or the ultimate meaning and purpose of existence: Why are we here anyway? Is this all there is? How should I live my life? And so on…  Briefly, religion is essentially about a loving relationship with God and with each other. And this leads to what I will call “altruism”, meaning how we live our lives fully and to our best ability, around a framework of faith in the God who made us in his own image (more about this later), and the best possible ethic and morality. And a God who also has an eternal glorious destiny planned for us. As we shall see, supremely for us as Christians: “Jesus is the way, and the truth and in the life”. (John 14:6).

Good Science and Sound Religion are complimentary ‘reflections’ of a great Creator’s mind, meant to enhance in harmony, and for good, the precious gift of humanity that we share together, both constantly needing divine inspiration and guidance.

Both science and religion are on a journey of discovery. Both going forward in faith and trust, using of course the other tools of their respective professions; constantly learning, revising, and often having to jettison error and mistakes. Both need each other, for science has been and can still be the tool of evil ideology as well as for the best good of humanity; and where religion also needs scrutiny and dispassionate judgment and correction, for it too has been and still can be the tool of abuse evil and terror, often refusing to acknowledge an ever changing world with huge good advances in human knowledge in many varied fields.

Finally, such a faith that I am trying to share with you can only prompt a deeper love, with a more profound respect, reverence and awe, before our Creator and Father God. All through the Bible, as steadily and patiently God reveals more and more of himself, we see a growing knowledge, love, reverence and awe. For me I see that culminating in the experience of those who met and loved Jesus, or those who later took the great Gospel of his love to their hearts also. For me I find this summed up in the words of the once doubting apostle Thomas, who when the risen Christ gently showed him the wounds of his great sacrifice for us, could only say in grateful love “My LORD AND MY GOD”. (John 20:28). If we can say and mean that, as we make this most exciting journey of faith and prayer, then the Nicene Creed as we explore and open it up, will surely help us on the way.

“My God, how wonderful you are, your majesty how bright;
 How beautiful your mercy seat in depths of burning light!
 How wonderful, how beautiful the sight of you must be;
 Your endless wisdom, boundless power, and awesome purity

George Abell

Avoiding the Dinosaurs’ Fate

The EARTH & FAITH Group made an April visit to the Ardley Energy Recovery Facility near Bicester. The industrial site is huge, having been built on a discontinued landfill dump. The purpose at Ardley is to use non-recyclable waste to create energy and road-making materials; almost everything is computer-controlled and depends on the interdisciplinary skills of environmental scientists. So, wearing goggles, hardhats and gloves, it was good to see in a vast hall of pipes, walkways, noise, conveyor belts and fiery furnaces glimpsed through portholes, how our fortnightly black bin and pink bag collections are being put to such good use.

Particularly striking was the sight of the life-size “Megalawattosaurus” who not-too benignly dominates the Visitor Centre Reception. Made most amusingly out of rubbish of all kinds – carpets, vinyl records, sports shoes, an old telephone, cooking pots, garden tools, umbrellas and much more – “Meg” offers a convenient cautionary tale. “Meg” is not just a handy illustration: Ardley is itself the site where dinosaur tracks were first found – the ‘walk way’ is carefully preserved. Just as dinosaurs became extinct because, wholly or in part, their climate changed so as to make them no longer viable, so – the lesson goes – if we continue with our environmental despoliation, we will suffer the same fate.

The tour included seeing the vast dumping hall where all our non-recycled material goes: it is stirred, hoisted into furnaces, with gasses so controlled that nothing harmful escapes – even the gasses being recycled. At the end, most of the effort goes to contributing directly to the National Grid, generating enough power for a town of 38,000 households. Most of the solid residue that remains is turned into the pre-asphalt layer for major road resurfacing.

The message was clear: reduce dependence on non-recyclable materials; increase re-use; replace and throw out less; increase still further our recycling level; reduce recovery rates (‘recovery’ is what they do at Ardley); and reduce any landfill towards zero. We were congratulated for being from the best area in the best county for recycling, but our current levels of 61% recycling, we were told, needs to be over 80%. Looked at from that perspective, “Meg” seemed something more of a challenge. There are energy recovery sites like Ardley across the country but it is our choices, our behaviour, linked to new environmental safeguarding technologies, that will make the difference.

Ardley is a reason to do more, not less. For more information and to book a visit, Google Ardley ERF

Peter Foot

The priesthood of all believers

Someone asked me about the meaning of this phrase – they had been commenting on how well the parish seemed to be proceeding in the interregnum and wondered if it was linked to those words.

Well, of course, it is! There’s a particular passage in Peter’s first letter in which he says, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ . . . But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

And remember the scene in the Upper Room after the resurrection when Jesus solemnly ordained, not just the Apostles, but the whole body of believers gathered in the room? He breathed on to them, telling them to receive the Holy Spirit, and gave them the authority for the remission of sins. The details of that scene could never have been written unless it was a commonly accepted truth throughout the whole Church that the Lord had solemnly ordained the whole body of the faithful to exercise his ministry to the world.

There’s a definition of the Priesthood of All Believers that declares this means that every individual has direct access to God and shares the responsibility of ministering to other members of the community of believers.

The man who asked me about this implied that our interregnum had been made easy because we have access to a number of retired clergy to help with services. The success of our parish’s ministry during the interregnum – and I believe my fellow clergy would agree with me – has had a little to do with our input, but a great deal more to do with the work of our lay brothers and sisters.

We are all, as it were, ordained by the laying on of hands at our Confirmation – very similar in essence to the ordination of the Clergy – Confirmation could be considered as the ordination of the Layperson to their sacred office. It’s worth remembering also that the Church accepts as perfectly valid Holy Baptism administered in a proper form by a Layperson, in the unavoidable absence of the Parish Priest, or in a case of emergency.

And no celebration of the Holy Eucharist is valid without the presence of Laypeople whose “Amen” to the Prayer of Consecration is an essential part of the Celebration. The Celebrant acts on behalf of the whole body of the faithful who are present – in being, as it were, their mouth and hands. In addition, the preaching of God’s Word can be, and is, committed to laypeople, who, as Local Lay Ministers, share this very important work with the ordained Clergy; and when, at public worship, the Absolution is pronounced by the Priest or Minister, it is given in the name of the whole Church.

I hope this explanation helps to show that the Church recognises the Priesthood of all believers. The difference between Clergy and Laity is that although they share one Priesthood, there is a definite distinction between the office of the Priesthood and the office of the Laity; the former are people who have been authorised and empowered to perform special duties and offices in the priestly Body, on behalf of its members, such as teaching, administering the Sacraments, pronouncing the Absolution, and, (If they’re Bishops) confirming and ordaining.

It is a truth that the Layperson has a priesthood, which they share with the clergy, and that, in a very true sense – except in just one particular respect – the one is just as much a priest as the other.

Max Young

Sometime by Patrick Zentler-Munro

Sometime

They all prayed for me,
and I felt them so
just before I went under.

The power of prayer brings
the gift of answer, and
the strength to carry on.

Everyone moves on and so must I:
push away the old regrets
and go into pastures new.

Patrick Zentler-Munro

George Abel suggested we print this poem in memory of Patrick. It is taken from Patrick’s book “Dolly Mixture & Other Poems”.

The Nicene Creed: : its Origin & Development

In this article we shall look at why in 325AD it was necessary to formulate such a creed at all, and how it needed to be added to within just 50 years.

Try to imagine, if you will, being a new Christian in a period say about a hundred years after the last books of the New Testament were written, i.e. about 200AD. Perhaps, through the encouragement of a parent, friend or work colleague, or may be a Christian minister himself, you have become a Christian – baptised and confirmed. Now you are part also of a worshipping community meeting most likely in a home, for very few church buildings if any were around then. For you, the historic Jesus of Nazareth whom you learnt about (not exactly in an Alpha Course but something similar) and who gave his life sacrificially for everyone and for you, is really and truly alive. He is someone you can truly believe in and trust; with whom you can converse and talk in helpful prayer, and know personally as a real friend and companion. He is someone whose life and teaching you wish to emulate and follow, giving richer purpose and worthwhile meaning to your life. Moreover, he enables you to live a moral life of genuine goodness, purity and unselfish love. And, because you know only too well that you often fail him, and let him and others down, he can still ‘clean up’ your heart and conscience and give you a fresh start.

You have discovered and learnt – perhaps very gradually, for this is profound ‘stuff’- that this Jesus whom you love wholeheartedly, was (indeed is) not only a truly real and fully human being born of Mary, but also in some almost incredible way is nothing less than divine . . . God himself. And as you grew in this remarkable faith and way of life you, like many others who really think about it, were sometimes puzzled by the question: what do I make of this enigma that Jesus is both human and divine? Can it really have been possible, and if so, why? How can I explain it e.g. to my own children as they think about matters of faith, the serious questions of life, and make their own choices as they must; or to folk who want to know why I believe what to them is strange stuff! [If you the reader have not thought along these lines I will be very surprised. I certainly have and still do!]

It was these kind of issues and questions that not only the ordinary thinking members of churches faced, but much more so, the churches’ leaders and teachers, the Bishops and Clergy. Moreover, the questions faced were not only about the nature of the historic Jesus, but of the one eternal God himself, and the nature of the Christian Church too. Remember that this was the era of countless gods and diverse often strange religions, and where both were brought into the civil and political arena, and often where the gods were made by law to be worshipped. Remember also that at this time you would certainly have had the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament now), but not a complete New Testament; perhaps just one or two Gospels or first editions of them, and a few only of the Letters of Paul and others. It is many years before the official Canon of Scripture (the Bible as we know it now) was promulgated after much debate as to what writings might or might not be included.

It was to give the best possible definitive answer to all the endless questions and debates about Jesus and God and Church that prompted the Churches’ Bishops to gather in prayerful Council. The earlier shorter creeds needed amplification. There had been far too much often unseemly, even heated and acrimonious, debate! Ideas had been expressed by many that did not fairly and fully represent the New Testament portrayal of Jesus. Some ideas were quite way out, plainly wrong or heretical. Some went so far as to claim that humankind can sort out his own sinful state and moral dilemma himself, not needing Jesus as the absolutely necessary Saviour. They saw Jesus as a great teacher and example, but no more than that.

Hence, after long prayerful debate, the first Creed of Nicea was drawn up in 325AD. The Bishops in Council believed that the Holy Spirit would guide them, just as Jesus had promised, to lead the Church, and so us also, to a better understanding of Saving Truth in Christ (See John 16:13). They followed the pattern of those first Apostles who had wrestled with major issues concerning the very existence and purpose of the Christian Church and its Faith (See Acts 15:28).  They believed that God would speak through them and confirm their conclusions.  And we too can believe and trust that this first Catholic & Ecumenical Creed (i.e. world-wide and representative of all the universal Churches), in seeking to affirm the Christian Faith, as revealed and taught in God’s Word of Holy Scripture, has the guidance, ‘seal and approval’ of God’s Spirit.

However clear in content, and healing after tough debate as this Creed certainly was, it was soon felt that improvements should still be made!  Hence in 381AD, at another mainly Eastern Council held at Constantinople (the eastern capital of the Roman Empire – now called Istanbul in modern Turkey) it was decided to strengthen the earlier definition that Jesus was also God as well as Human. That the work of the Holy Spirit and the nature of the Church should also be included in more detail, and some other statements enlarged. Strictly speaking we should call the Creed we now recite on Sundays the Niceno-Constantinopoitan Creed of 381AD. However, we’ll stick to the more familiar and easier title “The Nicene Creed”.

Dear loving Creator and life-giving God, the birth of every baby is a thing of wonder, miracle and joy.  Yet always it is preceded by uncertainties, and often pain and anxiety before the final pain of delivery. But then follows the overwhelming joy of a unique new child, loved by you, and delightfully lovable by mother, father, and all.  The pain and fears have passed.  A new life has begun, with a future of good hope in a journey for ever with you Lord.

Dear Lord of the Church, the story of how your Church wrestles with the eternal truths of the Christian Faith is just like that. Those early centuries were marked by strong hopes, but also frequent pain; yet eventually the birth of a richer truth and understanding of your holy Word. Help us Lord, each one of us in our own personal journey and faith, and in our common life together in Christ, to know that your guidance is constant and unfailing. That in the confusions and divisions still of to-days’ Church you do not leave us, and that a greater fullness of truth, harmony and unity, love and peace is not so far away. So please keep us faithful to the task, and thank you Lord for your dear Son’s sake. Amen.

George Abell

Realising our Prayers

I forget who it was that said “Prayer is always hard work”, but I’ve met quite a few people who were worried that they found it difficult to pray. In some ways I don’t think it was ever meant to be easy, as say picking up a phone that’s ringing and being put straight through to God. Like many things in our lives, it’s worth as much as the effort we put into it. Casual prayers, though sometimes rushed in the busy-ness of the morning, or repeated rather robotically in our tiredness as we go to bed, undoubtedly have a value, because they at least recognise that we depend on a Power beyond us. But to be frank, they’re  mere shadows of what prayer is, and of what it could mean to us if only we took the time and trouble to go for it seriously.

But the main difficulty, I think, isn’t in the saying of prayers, but the realising of them. What do I mean by that? Well, what a difference it would make if , as we pray, we could get some real feeling that there was a listening Presence around us that made us know that we weren’t just talking to ourselves.

We shouldn’t  be too tired or lazy to pray, as we so often are. We shouldn’t start with a massive weary sigh as we struggle to collect and concentrate our thoughts. And we shouldn’t end our prayer sessions with the horrible misgiving that the whole thing is just a meaningless, lifeless repetition of old familiar words, that we just say  without really believing that they’ll be heard or achieve any good.

But, sadly we don’t often perhaps get that sense of getting through to the unseen. Earthbound, we don’t seem able to lift our thought above the level of everyday life, to convince ourselves that there are any other realities or that the universe contains any state of life beyond our own. So we knock and knock at a door that never opens. We ask and ask, with no hope that we shall ever receive. We search  and get tired of searching, since it seems that we’ll never be able to find.

Now what’s the reason for that? To be honest, it may be all our own fault. Prayer isn’t often a disappointment if we take it seriously. But if we can only spare a couple of minutes for it, are we being serious? Do we really expect that we can snap our fingers and instantly switch off our thoughts, from the busyness of the lives we are living, and in the twinkling of an eye – possibly a very sleepy eye too – be aware of the glories of the spiritual world about us – aren’t we expecting too much? It takes a fair time to get to have a quiet mind and tune in to try, in an attitude of patient stillness, to listen for that voice that we so desperately want to hear answering us.

Even so, we may never seem to get through, as it were, to the other side. We do get through, but we may not be able to realise it. In that case, obviously, it’s no fault of ours. It only means that we are among those who are asked to have that greater faith – those promised that greater blessedness for believing without seeing.

It depends, I think, partly on the make-up of our personality. We may find that prayer is fairly easy for us and the realisation of the unseen is never very difficult. If we are by nature something of a mystic, if we’re artistic or musical, love poetry or drama, we may have that kind of make-up. But we may be very different – essentially practical, as many of us like to think we are – someone  who wastes no time in sentimentality or dreams, but who gets things done. If so, we will likely be useful in the world as it is, but possibly find it hard to pray. Our prayers are just as good as anybody else’s, but we’ll find it difficult to realise them.

We should remember, however, that we can’t choose the times when the clouds break and the sun comes shining through, but we can be ready for them, and I’m quite sure that prayer time isn’t the only time when we can get through to the unseen, or the unseen can get through to us. We may not have felt God near us then, but haven’t we felt something thrill within us when we, say, were walking down a country lane or by the sea; laughing happily with a friend or playing with a child; reading a book or sitting quietly alone with our thoughts? I have – have you?

If we’ve had that experience we can never say that we have not realised the Presence of God. The pity is that we are so slow to recognise it for what it is, to be thankful for it, and to wait eagerly, hopefully and reverently for the time when our personal clouds break and we shall feel the light and warmth of God’s Presence again. I pray that this happens in God’s good time for you.

Max Young

Some of a ‘young’ man’s thoughts in Spring

I don’t know about you, but I feel this Spring started in December last year when I saw primroses in bloom before Christmas! A whole range of shrubs and flowers have appeared much earlier than normal – a very confused magnolia grandiflora in Coach Lane flowered three times last year. Before Spring’s all over, I thought I’d better write about this glorious season, because it makes me think that God’s will is the same for all creation.

What on earth do I mean by that? Well, I think God’s will is the same for, say, the primrose and the daffodil, as it is for us. That is, to somehow bring something beautiful out, to ready us through the dark days of our lives for a good that we can’t predict, and to produce in us, in spite of all the difficulties we have to meet and contend with, or maybe perhaps through those very difficulties, the best that could possibly be. That’s quite a thought isn’t it? Someone once said that Mother Nature was God’s oldest evangelist, and she can preach a cracking good sermon, a sermon that speaks to us of courage, determination, patience and hope.

Go outside your home and spend some time contemplating the lovely things of springtime. Maybe because we pass them every day we miss their beauty and their meaning. Familiarity often breeds indifference. In my walks with Jennifer round our town’s streets, I feel blessed by God, and those hard-working gardeners, who provide us with so many lovely sights – we do try to let the gardeners know we appreciate the gardens they share with us.

We shouldn’t drive our cars blindly along country roads with an eye only on the speedometer or satnav. Let’s drive a bit slower and take in a bit more of our surroundings. Maybe we should try to stop for a minute or two by that copse over there, where in a few weeks we’ll be able to see the sheen of blue and breathe in lungfuls of perfumed bluebell air.

Stop somewhere, anywhere, where something of all this beauty is, and when you’ve stopped, think. Think with a reverence for this surrounding natural beauty and that will quietly bring us closer to our Creator God.

Think! Think about the great magic and variety of nature that we see and experience in springtime. We might suppose that primroses are lovely little things when we find them just dotted about here and there at the bottom of a hedge. But if they were the only flower there, it would be rather boring, wouldn’t it? The daffodil is beautiful too, but in quite a different way. And what about violets, or my favourite, harebells? They have an almost unique delicacy and gracefulness that are all their own. The glory of each flower is in being itself, in becoming perfectly what God designed it to be, and then in blending with all the other flowers into that great harmony of beauty which somehow includes and transcends them all.

And what about us? Does something similar apply to humans too? Well, to put it bluntly, if you’re a primrose, don’t worry because you’re not a daffodil. If you’re a daffodil, don’t wag your head condescendingly over the violet. We, you and I, are meant to be unique, each of us a new individual creation. We do ourselves no good at all if we waste our energy trying to be the spitting image of ‘celebs’ or ‘stars’, or try to reshape our bodies so that we are the wrinkle-free, ‘right’ proportion of flesh to fat with a well-defined ‘six-pack’ or ‘hour-glass’ figure.

I think human life is meant to be a blend – a blend of colours, a blend of varieties, a blend of individualities. The value of each doesn’t diminish, but is enhanced by the value of the others. Each one is different, but each adds to each just that little touch of human excellence that was lacking. All blend together into that great harmony of many separate chords that I’m sure is the symphony that is God’s will for human life.

For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies,

for the love which from our birth over and around us lies,

Lord of all, to thee we raise This our sacrifice of praise.  FS Pierpoint