Christian Essentials-101 History


Summary of Milestones in Christian History

First 150 years from 33 The Birth of the Church on the Day of Pentecost begins a process of growth with the Gospel. Centered on Jerusalem it begins to be preached further afield in different parts of the Greek and Roman world by the Apostle Paul and his companions. By the early part of the 2nd Century we have the recognizable shape and feel of growing Christianity that we find in the New Testament.

150-800. With the conversion of the Empire to Christianity under the Emperor Constantine in 312 Christianity gradually evolves from a disparate number of independent church communities, each with their own history connecting them to one of the original Apostles, into becoming an official religion of the Roman Empire. Now theology and politics flow in the same channel and the political needs of the Emperor begin to impact the Church.  This is a period of consolidation and considerable conflict as four emergent centers of Christianity known as patriarchates: Rome-Western Europe, Constantinople-Asia Minor, Antioch-Syria and the Middle East, and Alexandria-Egypt and North Africa, struggle for power and political influence as theological differences take-on political ramifications. In the interests of stability, successive Emperors summon the bishops to sit in Ecumenical Council.  There were seven Ecumenical Councils, each addressing the long-running disputes. The main areas of controversy concerned: the nature of God – three persons in one God i.e. the Trinity, the relationship between the human and divine natures in Jesus, and the development of the Canon of Scripture which required decisions as to which books were to be included and which to excluded. To us the passion behind these disputes seems odd, but we need to remember that theology can no longer be separated from political struggles.

1053 This is the year of the Great Schism, which separated the Greek-speaking Eastern regions of Christianity from the Latin-speaking Western region. This cultural division reflected the growing dissonance between the Roman Empire’s Western and Eastern administrative and linguistics sections. From this point-on, Christianity is no longer a unified, if fractious whole, but two mutually antagonistic branches. We see a growing ‘catholic’ identity centered on the Pope, the Patriarch of Rome in the Latin speaking West, alongside several Greek speaking ‘orthodox’ identities divided between the patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria.

Anglicanism traces and confines its core beliefs to the period leading up to, and ending with the Great Schism (division of the Church between Catholic West and Orthodox East).           

The Reformation Upheavals

1517 Martin Luther in challenging the sale of indulgences sparks the first phase of the Reformation. The Reformation is a theological reform movement, but its roots lie in the growth of an urban, economically powerful, and increasingly educated, middle class in Northern Europe, which bitterly resented the financial burden of the Church taxes levied by Rome.

1522 First Bible German Bible (Gutenberg Bible) and in 1526 the first Bible in English (Tyndale Bible). 

1533  Henry VIII divorces Catherine, his first wife thus triggering the start of the English Reformation. Unlike the Continental Reformation of Luther, Calvin, and others, Henry’s Reformation is primarily political, not theological. Already Defender of the Faith, Henry declares himself Supreme Head of the Church in place of the Pope. The Church in England now becomes the Church of England, maintaining its essential catholic theology and structure. Henry abolishes the Monasteries in England from 1536 onwards. This is a move motivated by a desire to get his hands on their wealth, rather than Church reform. 1549 the First Book of Common Prayer published by archbishop Thomas Cranmer is the first evidence of more serious theological and liturgical reform.

1547-1558  is a period of instability with more Protestant reforms under Edward VI, followed by a return to Roman Catholicism under Mary I. The protestant direction of the Church becomes settled with the accession of Elizabeth I.

1558- 1601 is the period of the Elizabethan Settlement establishing the Church of England as we know it and the emergence of Anglican identity. Anglican identity rests on being the middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Anglican tradition is both catholic in structure and reformed in theological emphasis. This is a crucial period in our history. You may have wondered why the Episcopal Church emphasises its identity as a community of worship, tolerant of differences in theological emphasis and outlook? It stems from the historical accident of this period when everyone regardless of theology or politics had to belong to the same church. The experience of people who agreed about little, sitting alongside one another in the same pews, meant that identity had to rest on relationships structured around common worship, rather than shared belief. Over time the magic of the Book of Common Prayer molded a community of common worship, which is the unique foundation of Anglican identity.

1611 sees the publication of the King James Bible, named after James I. James continues the Elizabethan Settlement. The KJ Bible becomes the most formative religious text for the English-speaking world.

1611-1642 is a period of religious flowering under the inspiration and scholarship of a group of bishops known as the Caroline (Carolus the Latin for Charles) Divines. They represent the classical period of Anglican spirituality. This flowering takes place against the growing political crisis between Charles I and his many Parliaments.

1642–1660 marks the English Civil War and the establishment of the Commonwealth under Cromwell following the execution of Charles I. During the Commonwealth the Church of England was abolished and Anglican identity suppressed.

1660 sees the restoration of the Monarchy and the Church with the return of Charles II accompanied by many bishops and priests who had fled to France in 1642.

1662 a new Book of Common Prayer is published for the purpose of reestablishing a strong Anglican identity. In the Church of England 1662 is still the authorised Book of Common Prayer.

1600-1776  covers the period of initial settlement of the 13 American Colonies. While many Puritan and other religious dissidents fled England to settle in the New England colonies, the Church of England became firmly Church in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies. This period ends with the War of Independence.

1784 Following the Revolution, Samuel Seabury becomes the first bishop consecrated for the newly formed American Episcopal Church. He was consecrated in Aberdeen by the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Seabury was consecrated in Scotland by the Scottish Episcopal bishops, who had already separated from the Church of England, because he was unable to take the Oath of Allegiance to the King demanded by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1789 the first American Book of Common Prayer is publishedThe New American Book of Common Prayer takes follows more closely the Scottish prayer book as a result. The first decades of the Episcopal Church saw growing tension between the episcopally minded Anglicans and the Methodist societies. The Methodist societies had been part of the Church of England in the Colonies and represented a revivalist low church tradition among the rural population, esp. in the South. Seabury’s refusal to ordain Methodist lay preachers without a university education, resulted in the Methodist societies leaving the Episcopal Church to form their own church. A great swathe of the rural population thus left the Episcopal Church, leaving it concentrated in the urban centers of the East Coast.

Joke: The Baptists evangelized the West by walking, the Methodists rode horses, the Episcopalians had to wait for the invention of the Pullman Car. 

 The Three Legged Stool 

This is the name given to a distinctive characteristic of Anglican Tradition. The three legs are Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Anglicanism maintains these in a mutual tension with no one aspect being more important than the other two. In Protestantism, Scripture is the most important aspect, in fact the sole defining aspect – sola scriptura –only scripture. In Roman Catholicism Tradition is the dominant aspect.

Scripture is the Bible. Tradition is how the Church interpret the Bible and theology, i.e. the teaching of the Church,  Reason relates to a sense that there are ways of perceiving God and affirming the existence of God that are independent of scriptural revelation. In viewing the goodness of creation and the natural world, human beings become aware of a higher set of values such as love, beauty, honesty and human integrity-nobility – a kind of natural law.

In Anglicanism, Scripture is held in check by being subjected to the understanding of the community of faith i.e. Tradition. This means that the community of the faith – the Tradition of the Church, decides what importance to give to various parts of Scripture and is able to declare parts of Scripture no longer binding, e.g. the N.T. texts supporting slavery. But Tradition is subject to the independent challenge of Scripture, particularly the Gospel. Custom and practice of belief has to sit under the critical evaluation of the Gospel. Both are subjected to the assessment of Reason. Reason challenges the interpretation of Scripture and Tradition when either fly in the face of the higher values of the natural law.

Scripture, Tradition, Reason and the pendulum swing of history 

A simple way to view the major shifts in Anglican Church history is to see them as a playing-out of the tensions between the three legs of the stool. Inevitably one leg either grows too long or begins to shrink, either way causing the stool to lose its stability. This results in a correction that returns, for a time at least, some stability to the stool.

The English Reformation period from 1533-1660 represents a period in which Scripture and Tradition are in serious tension. The movement begins with an elevation of the importance of Scripture as a challenge to Tradition. Remember Tradition is not everything the church does, but represents the major emphases that shape understanding and practice. The dominance of Tradition, always more important in Roman Catholicism, makes sense when most people can’t read and have no direct access to the Bible. In this context, Tradition as represented by the clergy dictates the content of faith. Once people start to read the Bible, esp. in their own language, it then becomes possible to challenge Tradition, to challenge the stranglehold of clerical power. This is the underlying dynamic of the Reformation, which elevates Scripture’s position as a counter to Tradition. During this period the balance of power shifts back and forth. Tradition is challenged by people’s direct access to Scripture. This results in a reform of Tradition and an example of this is the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549. The BCP has three major revisions (1552, 1559, 1662) during this period in response to the tensions between Scripture and Tradition. During this period the extreme scriptural party, known as the Puritans, are in continual struggle with the more centrist Anglican and Calvinist theologies represented in the mainstream church. An important development of this struggle led to the Puritan emigrations to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in search of a place to practice their form of extreme Biblical Protestantism, and in turn to persecute others who disagreed with them. Political (King verses Pope, King verses Parliament) and economic (rise of educated wealthy merchant class) drivers of social change are all mixed up with theological reform (Protestant direction) and counter reform (Catholic direction) in this period.

After 1660 and throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries there is a tension between the growing influence of Reason spurred-on by the beginnings of the scientific revolution. Remember that Newton and Bacon and all the great scientific figures of this time are all Anglican priests because until the early 19th Century to teach in the Universities required ordination. Throughout this period the importance of Scripture wanes dramatically and Tradition and Reason are in principle contention. Tradition fights a series of losing battles and Reason triumphs with the forces of the Enlightenment. By the latter part of the 18th Century, Reason is supreme and this is represented by a movement known as Deism. Deism replaces the Christian revelation of God with God as the supreme architect of the Universe. Creation comes to be seen as a clockwork mechanism over which God reigns from a distance leaving human agency, guided by reason to keep things in good running order. Church architecture follows a return to Classical Greek and Roman styles. American civic architecture, established in this period, displays the strong influences of the Roman Imperial style of domes, columns, and heroic friezes.  The Founding Fathers were not as often contended today, good Evangelicals, but Deists. The God of Jefferson and Washington was the God of rationalism, the natural laws of self and social improvement, and political and scientific enlightenment.

1790’s to 1850 are dates marking a broad period when Scripture begins to challenge the triumph of Reason. John and Charles Wesley represent a growing desire to return to Scripture and the centrality of a heart-felt relationship with Christ that is capable of changing lives. This is the period of the rise of Methodism and the Evangelical Revival. This very necessary swing back toward the importance of Scripture and personal piety lays the foundations for great social reforms, the greatest of which are: the abolition of slavery movement, Quaker led reform of the prisons, and the abolition of child labor. The evangelical God is a God who is no longer dispassionate, overseeing from a distance, but a God who cares about and is involved in the plight of individuals.

1840’s to Mid 20th Century. Nothing is more certain that after a period of steady rise in the assertion of Scripture over Reason a swing in the direction of Tradition was inevitable. The Oxford Movement was a reassertion of Tradition, which led to a revaluing of Anglicanism’s catholic heritage. The emphasis of this movement marks a return to the centrality of liturgical worship as prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer. This essentially conservative Tradition-focused swing expressed itself in a revival of the medieval Gothic style of architecture, and a return to ‘catholic’ ceremonial. Throughout the period of Reason, the main Sunday service would have been Morning Prayer with a very long sermon. The Evangelicals didn’t favor liturgical worship much at all, preferring revivalist styles of gathering with fervent hymn singing. The Oxford Movement, reestablishes the Eucharist as the first service on a Sunday with Sung Matins remaining the main service, now much embellished by the addition of ceremonial and music etc. Eventually, in many Anglo-catholic Churches Matins was replaced by a return of the High Mass – a very elaborate celebration of the Eucharist. Parishes described as ‘Broad Church’, which had stood out against the Anglo-catholic movement became influenced by the Parish Communion Movement following the First World War. By the middle of the 20th Century Eucharistic Anglican liturgy, as we now know it, had fully returned to most parts of the Church. This ‘liturgical’ development was finally completed in the Episcopal Church with the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer instituting changes to the structure of the Eucharist as the fruit of the liturgical reform movement of the Second Vatican Council.

The Mid 20th – 21st Century is a period of balanced equilibrium between the three legs of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Scripture was strengthened by contributions from the new academic disciplines of history, archeology, and textual analysis. It became possible to understand the complex textual and historical developments that produced the books of the Bible in a new and deeper way. We will look at this in greater detail when we come to study the Bible. Tradition now played a central role, not only in stressing the importance of Eucharistic-centered liturgical worship, but Tradition as the expression of the mind of the community of faith built-on developments in understanding and interpreting Scripture. For instance, Anglican Churches came to understand the changing relationship between men and women as a shift in Scriptural emphasis. More recently, the emancipation of LGBT people follows a similar pattern. Tradition also encouraged a return to spirituality and the importance of a devotional life. Reason brought new ways of making sense of the Christian Faith in the light of scientific progress. This has allowed Anglicans to accept that the value of science lies in its observational and explanatory approach to the material world. The value of religion lies not in a competing explanatory power but as the rich source for truth as history and truth as metaphor.

Spiritual Practice

Over the coming week try, to spend some time each day reflecting on the following questions. The way to do this is to find somewhere to sit quietly at home or elsewhere and bring your attention to the rising and falling of your breath. Imagine the breath as deep within your belly rather than in your chest and simply observe yourself breathing. Through observing our breath we come easily into the presence of God who is the breath that brings life. We also become aware of something we do all the yet, usually are not ware of doing it. Breathing offers an image of the presence of God, here all the time usually not noticed by us. 

After a few minutes of settling begin to contemplate the questions. You don’t have to do all of them at one time. Let the question percolate in your thoughts and notice images or connections that seem to arise naturally for you. At the end of your time, end with an expression of gratitude for your life, your loves, and for your desire to come to know God more deeply. 

  1. How does the balance between the importance of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason play out I your temperament?
  2. Do you need to pay more attention to your development in one of these areas?



Christian Essentials 101: God, Jesus, and the Church

Abstract: God is a community within a single identity. An aspect of God (the Word) came to co-exist within the person of Jesus, who through his death and resurrection God does something new in the relationship of creator to creation. After Jesus’ ascension a different aspect of God (Holy Spirit) infuses the community of disciples with empowerment giving birth to the Church. The Church continues God’s work in creation. Baptism is entry into membership of the Church. The Church witnesses to the mystery as well as the revelation of God in Jesus through receiving God in the form of Spirit. God, Jesus, and Church are linked – Jesus died; God raised him to new life; the Church affirms this new beginning through the celebration of Eucharist. 

Trinity Joke

Jesus said, Whom do men say that I am? And his disciples answered and said, Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead; others say Elijah, or other of the old prophets. And Jesus answered and said, But whom do you say that I am? Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple. “And Jesus answering, said, “What?”

Jesus’ response to Peter is a fair summary of how many people feel about the Trinity, which is where I want to begin in responding to the remaining three questions in this Christian Essentials section of Episcopal 101. We have explored questions of identity with respect to God, the Creator and Jesus Christ, the Word of God. We are now ready to explore the fuller identity of God as a relational being. God as a community of relationship is known as the Trinity.

As the joke above captures, many regard the Trinity as a thorny theological and philosophical conundrum. However, the important and relatively simple thing to remember is that the Trinity emerges out of the ordinary experience of the first Christians as they begin to make sense of their experience of God. As Jews, they knew God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of their fathers and the Creator of the world who revealed himself to Moses and to the people through the gift of the Law and the preaching of the Prophets. They also had direct experience of Jesus as a revelation of God, this time within their intimate human experience. They now have a further experience of God as a force of nature that overwhelms them and leaves them in a completely changed frame of awareness.

Another way to approach this is to remember that to be human is to be relational. As human beings we are built for relationships. Our human need for relationship finds expression in the life lived in community – one Christian is no Christian- says the Early Church Father, Tertullian. Therefore, our relationality is a reflection of God’s relationality. For the first Christians, God as a divine community is powerfully experiential. They identified with the Father-creator – lover, Jesus the Son- communicator – beloved, and Holy Spirit empowering presence, love sharer. For them, all three were expressions of God, directly experienced.

In italics I have added nongendered relational terms to these identities – lover, beloved and love sharer. As we saw in our first session, God is neither male nor female, yet the principles of masculine and feminine are present in God’s nature. Although Jesus as a human being certainly was male, the Word of God (logos) is not male. The Father – creator, and the Son – communicator, can be viewed through masculine imagery without being defined as male. The Holy Spirit, in Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (peneuma), is feminine. The feminine principle is captured in the notion of the Spirit as generative, fecund energy, bringing life to birth. Traditionally the Holy Spirit was referred to as it, because I guess it was difficult for a patriarchal tradition to refer to an element of God as she.

As time passed the first Christians needed to be able to articulate their experience. As the influence of Greek philosophical thought grew among the gentile Christians, it was natural for them to turn to this tradition of learning in search of a way of speaking about their experience. The Trinity is a philosophical theory that gave the growing Christian Church the language to speak about God. In Greek thought, the term person could be used to speak about different identities that, nevertheless shared one nature.

There is a recognized psychological theory for how our individual identities are also the product of our relationships with others. Our individual identity i.e. who I am is constructed out of a complex dynamic of being in relationship with others. Who I think I am is as much a function of how I perceive others viewing me. I catch a glimpse of myself in the face of the other, looking back at me. It’s kind of like that, we can imagine, within the divine community. There are not three Gods, but three persons in one God, each reflecting back the image of the other. Each person has a function. The Father (the lover) is the creator source of all things. The Son (the beloved) is the communicator of all things – the Logos or Word. The Holy Spirit (feminine principle) is God in all things. But the main point is not their functions but the way each function emerges out of being in relationship with one another.

Please go online to explanation.htm  Here you will find a further explanation that uses Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity to demonstrate how this can be imagined.

What is the Nicene Creed?

The Trinity emerged out of the way the early Christians experienced God (see above). The doctrine is important not because it explains mystery, but because it protects the mystery of God from being reduced to mere human understanding. This protective function is what the Nicene Creed is, and does. The Nicene Creed gets its name from the Ecumenical Council that met in a place called Nicaea in 325AD. There were seven of Ecumenical (Greek for inhabited world) Councils up to the end of the 5th Century. They met to iron-out differences and disagreements. They formulated statements that protected the full mystery of the relational nature of God, the incarnation, and the two natures in Jesus as the foundations for the shared faith in the life of the Church. They used Greek Philosophy to do this. The teaching of the seven Ecumenical Councils is the teaching agreed upon by the Latin-speaking catholic Church in the West and the Greek-speaking orthodox Church in the East. It is the teaching that Episcopalians recognize as the Historic (Catholic –universal and Apostolic – from the Apostles) tradition of Christianity. For further reference you can view the Historical Documents section of the Book of Common Prayer beginning on page 864.

Harry Williams, was a renowned spiritual writer in the middle 20th century. His writing was a huge influence on me growing up. He was also a monk of the Community of the Resurrection, an Anglican men’s community at Mirfield in Yorkshire. A story is told that during the recital of the creed in the Eucharist, Fr Harry would sit down and switch-off the light over his stall when he came to lines he did not believe. I am often asked do you have to believe every line of the creed? The answer is no you don’t. The Nicene Creed represents the historic faith of the Church. We related to the faith of the Church from within the dynamic experience of our own spiritual journey. Think of roaming about the many rooms of a great mansion, sometime feeling more, sometimes feeling less comfortable in various rooms. However, the faith of the Church continues to remain true and because it is the faith of the community, its truth does not rely on our individual assent, nor is it invalidated by our individual doubts. Remember, that we participate in the life of the Church not through holding at all times correct belief, but struggling at all times with the demands of right relationship. This leads nicely to our next question. 

What is the Church?

What we call the Church, the Christian Community in the world is born on the Day of Pentecost, literally 50 days after the Resurrection. On the Day of Pentecost those gathered were visited by the power of God in the form of wind and fire, both atmospheric phenomena that communicated the presence of God in a particularly new way. This is recorded in the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles. This is the first experience of God as Holy Spirit.

The Evangelist we know as Luke wrote a two-part work. He wrote his Gospel as an account of what God had done in the life and ministry of Jesus. He continued the story in Acts, with the birth, life and ministry of what God is continuing to do through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The Ascension of Jesus and the birth of the Church are linked by the Holy Spirit’s actions at Pentecost. Now that the ministry of Jesus is completed with his return to the divine community of the Trinity, something else is needed.

With the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, two elements came together for the first Christians. The pieces of knowledge that had remained as fragmented memories of Jesus’ teaching when he was alive began to make sense through their direct experience of a series of events, i.e. the death, resurrection, post resurrection appearances and the ascension of Jesus. The intervention of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the catalytic event is a tipping point moving the disciples from a state of loss and confusion into a new order of perception.

Through Jesus, God shares Godself with the creation, a sharing that bridges the breach in relationship between the creation and creator. Through the Holy Spirit, God now shares Godself in order to further energize the work Jesus started. Empowered by the Holy Spirit the disciples, which means followers now become apostles, which means messengers. The Holy Spirit is God’s second gift of Godself. The result of this encounter dramatically changed the disciples of Jesus from bewildered followers into impassioned messengers who then proceeded to talk openly and publically about Jesus. The Church is born!

As Christians of the Historic Tradition, Episcopalians conceive of the Church as more than a voluntary association of believers, organized for mission. We conceive of the Church as the mystical Body of Christ, which has a corporate identity, which is greater than the sum total of its individual parts. The Body expresses itself primarily through liturgy – esp. the Eucharist. Liturgy is the mechanism for incorporating individual believers or worshipers into the experience of being part of the mystical Body of Christ known as, the Church. For example in Eucharist, even if there are only two of the baptized present, and one of the two is a priest, then the Eucharist can be celebrated. Two members represent the function of the whole as if the entire Church is present. I mentioned the Eucharist requires at least two baptized persons, one of whom needs to be a priest because each represents the separate function that together constitutes the whole. It’s time to talk about baptism.

What is Baptism?

Baptism is the ceremony of entry into the Church. Contrary to a lot of popular belief, baptism is not about individual salvation. It’s about belonging, nurturing and growing as part of a community of faith.

Baptism involves four key elements. The first is Spirit. Baptism finds an echo in the actions of God’s Spirit hovering and brooding over the void at creation in Genesis 1. It also finds echo in the Spirit breathing life into the lungs of the human being fashioned out of the elements of the earth in Genesis 2. The Spirit, which is the source of all life, is given to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit. For Christians the Holy Spirit is the sanctifying and sustaining energy of God active in the world.

The second element is Water.  Water is necessary for life. It is elemental. It also nourishes, cleanses and restores. In our baptism we find an echo to the passing of the Israelites through the waters of the Red Sea  – a rite of passage. In the waters of baptism we also die and rise to the new life in Christ whether through the symbolism of total emersion or the pouring of water over the head. Both have the same meaning in the sense that the Eucharist is a meal even though we are only given a piece of bread and a sip of wine.

Thirdly there is Covenant. In the 31st chapter of Jeremiah God speaks of a new relationship with his people in which his law is transformed from a set of commands to something written on the inside of their hearts. In baptism we are signing ourselves into the New Covenant initiated by Jesus through the cross and resurrection. Baptism is our response to God’s invitation to enter into covenant. Like a contract, a covenant is a conditional offer that requires a response of acceptance to transforms it into something potential to something realized.

The fourth element is Community. All of created life is sacred. Physical birth ushers us into the goodness of God’s Creation. Being created involves neither a choice nor a response from us. In this sense to be human is to be most like God. Baptism reminds us that no one drifts into the Kingdom of God by mistake. As Christians we embrace the fundamental goodness of creation by making the choice to enter into a deliberate and particular covenant with God. In this sense being Christian is to know that to be human is to be most like God. Baptism is our entry into the saving and cross bearing community we call the Church.

Baptism is the same for all whether you are three months-old or 30 years-old. It is a once in a lifetime event. No prior knowledge or demonstration of faith is necessary to be baptized. What is required is an intention to journey within the community of the Church. The importance for baptism is what happens following it. Its meaning and effect grow within us through a daily renewal of our baptismal promises of the Baptismal Covenant. There is no special status within the Christian community beyond that of being baptised. Both St Paul in Romans 12 and the writer of 1 Peter:2  speak of the community of the baptised as a royal priesthood. Even those set aside by ordination hold the same spiritual rank as all other baptized members. Ordination for ministry is a call from within the whole body of the baptised for leaders to guide the community into becoming more fully an embodiment of the Kingdom of God.

Baptism and The Eucharist

Entry to Holy Communion is by virtue of our baptism not confirmation. Historically, entry to communion became linked to confirmation as an attempt to ensure that people continued to present for confirmation. Confirmation adds little other than an opportunity to confirm baptismal vows, often made by us as infants. The current practice of the Episcopal Church is to communicate infants and children who have been baptized. Baptism is the sacrament of entry into community of the Church. Eucharist is the participation in the life of that community. Confirmation is the sacrament of personal affirmation of baptism and is the ceremony of entry into relationship (communion) with the local Episcopal Bishop. The unity of the Church is a result of local bishops being in communion with one another. 

Additional matters

The Order of Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer.

Take a look at the structure of how the rite unfolds and think of it as the unfolding of the drama of our salvation story. Note the different parts:

  • Presentation and decision
  • Blessing of the waters
  • Baptism and sealing with the Holy Spirit
  • Confirmation – note confirmation is the concluding part of baptism. Because it was reserved only to the Bishop to confirm over time as the Church grew beyond single communities each led by a Bishop, confirmation became increasingly divorced from baptism becoming separated by an interval of years.

Baptismal Covenant Pg 304 BCP

We affirm our faith through saying together the Apostles Creed, which identifies how to live the life of a baptized person in the world. It involves making three reaffirmations of belief:

  1. Do you believe in God the Father – Creator God – Source of Being?
  2. Do you believe in Jesus Christ – Redeemer God – Bridge of Being?
  3. Do you believe in The Holy Spirit – Sanctifier God – Spirit of Being in and through the Church?

We affirm our faith through five promises:

  1. Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers? (be a faithful member of the saving community)
  2. Will you persevere in resisting evil, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? (work to stay in right relationship with God)
  3. Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? (live out the values of the Gospel in the world)
  4. Will you seek to serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself? (live a life motivated by love)
  5. Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? (fight against social systems the deny human dignity to all)

Spiritual Reflections

Over the coming week try, to spend some time each day reflecting on the following questions. The way to do this is to find somewhere to sit quietly at home or elsewhere and bring your attention to the rising and falling of your breath. Imagine the breath as deep within your belly rather than in your chest and simply observe yourself breathing. Through observing our breath we come easily into the presence of God who is the breath that brings life. We also become aware of something we do all the yet, usually are not ware of doing it. Breathing offers an image of the presence of God, here all the time usually not noticed by us. 

After a few minutes of settling begin to contemplate the questions. You don’t have to do all of them at one time. Let the question percolate in your thoughts and notice images or connections that seem to arise naturally for you. At the end of your time, end with an expression of gratitude for your life, your loves, and for your desire to come to know God more deeply. 

1.     Why are human relationships and communities important from a theological standpoint?

2.     How might a growing sense of your answer to 1. above influence the way you live?   

3.    Trace in your mind’s eye the emergent sequence of experiences that led the first Christians to conceive of God as Trinity.

4.     Are you taking the vows of the baptismal covenant seriously in not only the way you live but though the worldview you hold?

5.    Go to the link given for the Rublev Icon of the Trinity. Gaze at it. Note the sequence of movement from Creator to Word to Spirit. Reflect on the experience of gazing at identical figures and ask yourself the question: the figures look identical but do they feel the same to you?.

Christian Essentials 101: Who is Jesus?

I. The Bible

Isaiah the Old Testament Prophet speaks of the coming of the Messiah, or anointed one and one of Isaiah’s key images for the Messiah is that of a baby or child who ushers-in the Kingdom of God (7:10-16) which led the first Christians to identify Jesus as the one of which Isaiah was speaking. 

In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to by two principle titles: Son of Man, and Son of God.

The Gospel of Mark, the first of the Gospels to be written takes up the theme of Messiah with Jesus’ arrival being foretold by John the Baptist, who represents the prophet Elijah. Mark comes to identify Jesus with another section of Isaiah known as the Servant Songs: 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13 – 53:12. The servant songs form the text for Handel’s Oratorio: The Messiah. The servant is the one who offers to suffer on behalf of others. Mark’s Jesus is the Suffering Servant who offers his life for the world. In Mark, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man. For me this title communicates a strong image of Jesus as the servant who becomes a man of suffering, accepting suffering on behalf of those God loves.

In the second Gospel to be written, Matthew writes for a very Jewish community. He portrays Jesus as the new Moses. Moses was the greatest of the Hebrew prophets to whom God gave the Law in the form of the Ten Commandments. Jesus, the new Moses brings the New Law, which replaces the Ten Commandments by summarizing them into two Great Commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew likes Jesus to refer to himself as the Son of God, a more exalted title than Son of Man.

Luke, writing in the more mixed setting of Jews and Gentiles pictures Jesus as the Son of God who is a reconciler and healer, a welcomer of those outcast and on the social margins, e.g. women, children, tax collectors, and other various bands of sinners. 

John, the last of the Gospels to be written understands Jesus to be God the Son, which turns the title Son of God on its head. This is a much more extensive claim for Jesus because it identifies Jesus and God as so closely intertwined that we can say they are one in the same. Following John’s Christology, the Early Christians would come to see Jesus as the communicative aspect of the Divine Community of the Trinity. They referred to Jesus as the Word of God (logos in Greek). Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, God the Son and John offers us a great set of images for this in Chapter 1: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. … The Word was made flesh and lived among us… Later Jesus in John’s Gospel Jesus talks in the language of: I, and the Father are one; to have seen me is to have seen the Father. 

II.  Identity through Adoption or Birth

Another way to approach this question is to look at how each of the Gospel’s narrates how Jesus comes to be, in one form or another, the Son of God.

Mark, writing some 30 years after Jesus introduces us to Jesus already as an adult coming to John for Baptism. During the baptism God’s voice is heard to proclaim Jesus’ identity – this is my Son in whom I am well pleased. Jesus becomes adopted into his special relationship with God. This idea of adoption is very strong in the earliest Christian writer, the Apostle Paul.

Matthew and Luke, each writing with a 10 – 20 year gap from Mark, approach Jesus’ identity from the perspective of his birth. Both construct similar yet different birth narratives to explain who Jesus is in relation to God. In Matthew there are shepherds, but no wise men and the Angel speaks to Joseph. In Luke there are wise men and the Angel speaks to Mary. Matthew’s emphasis is on Jesus born into the House of David, from which Isaiah prophesized that the Messiah would be born. Jesus is a descendant of King David through Joseph. So in Matthew the emphasis is on Joseph and Matthew is placing Jesus in the long line of lineage that identifies him as the Jewish Messiah. Remember that for Matthew Jesus is the new Moses. Tracing his lineage back into Israel’s history is crucial! Luke emphasizes the role of Mary and her conception, the hidden truth of which is explained to her by the message of an Angel. The wise men represent Luke’s concern with how the wider world comes to understand who Jesus is.

To summarize then, for Paul and Mark, Jesus is adopted into his identity as God’s Son through baptism. For Matthew and Luke, Jesus is born into the world as God’s Son. John makes no mention of either, pushing the origins of Jesus as God’s Son back into the life of the Trinity itself. Jesus is the Word come into the world. Jesus is the communicative element of God’s relational being.

III. The Incarnation

This is the doctrine that speaks in terms of God, creator of the universe entering into the experience of being part of the creation. God achieves this through being born as a human infant. The Incarnation speaks of Jesus as a person in which the human and the divine are present as two distinct and independent natures. They are not mixed-up in the sense of Jesus as a kind of divine human being – a god-man. Neither is Jesus simply an avatar, someone with an exceptionally developed God consciousness. The two natures are separate, existing simultaneously, linked through a mutual relationship (there’s that word again). In Jesus, the divine lives within the limitations of fully human life. In Jesus, human nature reclaims its original status at Creation (see back to Genesis 1), of being made in the image of God. In Jesus we come to see that to be fully human is to be most like God.

The Incarnation, although flowing from the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus, does not rest on the plausibility nor fall on the implausibility of the birth narratives as a description of biology, i.e. how it happened. The Incarnation is not a pre-scientific explanation of human procreative biology.  The Incarnation is a doctrine that functions to protect the mystery of God’s action. The Incarnation is the reconciliation of the human and the divine, paving the way for the events of the cross and resurrection.

IV. The Cross and Resurrection

The final element in the question: who is Jesus, is that Jesus is the Christ. We understand this to mean that Jesus accepts his identity within the Hebrew tradition of Messiah (promised or anointed one), but he gives the Hebrew expectation (earthly warrior king coming to restore the fortunes of Israel) a new meaning. Jesus, as the Christ comes not as an earthly king, but as the sign of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, which arrives through his death and Resurrection.

In Evangelical and American popular expressions of Christianity the cross is often spoken about as God’s requirement for a sacrifice to overcome the legacy of human sinfulness. Jesus is seen in this view as God’s willing victim and Jesus dies on the cross as a payment for our sins. The idea of Jesus being sacrificed for the sin of the world comes from the analogy that some parts of the N.T.(Letter to the Hebrews) make with the Jewish Temple where animals were sacrificed as an offering for human sin. In historic Christianity this is known as Atonement Theology (see Eucharistic Prayer A). In the Bible we also find another theological tradition known as Covenant Theology (See Eucharistic Prayer B), which understands the relationship between God and humanity as one of invitation and response. In Jesus we see God’s ultimate expression of invitation into a relationship of love. God, in Jesus offers his own life for the life of the world in the spirit of there is no greater love than that we lay down our life for those we love. The cross is an expression and offering of love as the ultimate act of invitation into relationship. This act of God is a dividing point in history. For Christians, the death of Jesus opens the way for God to do a new thing. This new thing is resurrection.

Resurrection –Jesus did not rise from the dead, God raised him from the dead as a sign of a new order. The new order we call the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is an idea that plays havoc with our sense of time. The Kingdom has come in Jesus, and yet, its fulfillment is still awaiting full completion. Because we live in the promise of its ultimate fulfillment, we live in the time between the inauguration and completion of the Kingdom.

Our role in this process is to live according to the expectations of the Kingdom in the here-and-now. When we do so we forward its unfolding. This is the New Covenant, that through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, God has invited us into participation.  Human beings can, and still do refuse (free will) that invitation, hence the broken state of the world as we see it all around us. However, the full emergence of the Kingdom is assured, and we are those who live-out the values of the Kingdom right now.

The expectations or values of the Kingdom can be summed up in one word: Love – expressed interpersonally as compassion and communally as justice. At the personal level love includes self-acceptance, mutual-acceptance, toleration, forgiveness, selfgiving service. Communally expression of love means championing the cause of justice, fighting inequity, embracing inclusion, practicing tolerance, and mercy. 

Spiritual Reflections 

Over the coming week try, to spend some time each day reflecting on the following questions. The way to do this is to find somewhere to sit quietly at home or elsewhere and bring your attention to the rising and falling of your breath. Imagine the breath as deep within your belly rather than in your chest and simply observe yourself breathing. Through observing our breath we come easily into the presence of God who is the breath that brings life. We also become aware of something we do all the yet, usually are not ware of doing it. Breathing offers an image of the presence of God, here all the time usually not noticed by us. 

After a few minutes of settling begin to contemplate the questions. You don’t have to do all of them at one time. Let the question percolate in your thoughts and notice images or connections that seem to arise naturally for you. At the end of your time, end with an expression of gratitude for your life, your loves, and for your desire to come to know God more deeply. 

The following statements are in tension. Notice the one that speaks more to you and reflect on why this might be. What does this tell you about yourself and who Jesus is for you? 

a. I can relate to Jesus because he was God’s Son and this makes him special, divine, more than human.

b. I can relate to Jesus because he was subject to the same limitations and struggles I experience, and this makes him human like me.

c. Being Christian is to believe without doubt that Jesus died on the cross to save me/the world from sin.

d. Being Christian is to accept God’s invitation into a new covenant where what is important is the way I live according to the values of the Kingdom (see above).

e. Correct belief is more important to me.

f. Right relationship is more important to me.

Everyone had had such high hopes. Ten years ago Cyrus, the King of Persia had set them free to return to their beloved Jerusalem. Jerusalem, that treasured memory, embellished in their hearts during the long 50 years of captivity in Babylon. 50 years of mourning and repentance pouring out in the voice of psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill .
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

50 years of waiting during which the Levites, the priestly scholars of the Law, turned their undivided attention to the scrolls of the Torah, which had been carried into exile. The Torah comprised the history of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh-God. With the passion of repentant zeal the Levites  edited the record of the nation’s history, a history that had recorded the ups and downs between Yahweh- God and a stiff-necked people – struggling to remain in relationship together. 50 years, during which the great task of editing the sacred texts was an attempt to find meaning in the face of the disaster of defeat and exile. This process initiated religious reforms as a sign of repentance. Once again the Children of Israel were called to return to the covenant with Yahweh-God. After 50 years, God finally answered them. Cyrus, his instrument – set them free to return to Jerusalem, city of cherished memory.

The returnees had had such high hopes. Yet within a space of years we hear God’s complaint renewed against them in the words of Isaiah, the third of that name. The third Isaiah raises his voice in protest:

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift your voice like a trumpet and announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.

The old dynamic had reasserted itself. The people complain against God :

Look we fast and you do not see, we follow the rules, humble ourselves, and you do not notice.

They are attention-seeking, self-preoccupied , their humility a mask for their arrogant complacency.Through the voice of the prophet God blasts them for their complicity in the structural sins of injustice and oppression, which had so quickly corrupted the society of the restored Jerusalem community. Look, Yahweh cries:

you serve your own interests on your fast day, and oppress all your workers …. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. … Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not hide yourself from your own kin.

The hopes of the returnees, the 50-year task of reform and repentance had given way to the human propensity to retreat from a dream of something new, back into business-as-usual. Human-centered ways of seeing obscure the clarity of a new God-inspired perspective. A perspective grasped only in moments of crisis when the edifice of human self-interest cracks and the resulting fear makes them receptive once more to God’s words. Like Isaiah and the Hebrew prophets before him, Jesus sounded the same call to repentance and change. Christians have come to recognize the echo of Isaiah’s words in Jesus’ proclamation of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

The Apostle Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth that:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  

In such tones Paul confronts the Corinthians with the error of their ways.

As it was with the Jews in 583BC, so with the Corinthians in around 60AD. The French have an expression: plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose- the more things change the more they stay the same. The Corinthians rested their new-found faith upon the foundations of human wisdom, rather than on the power of God. The problem with human wisdom is that it degrades into business-as-usual. By this I mean that human behaviour both individual, and societal inevitably gravitates to what is known, to what is familiar. What we know is the need to scramble for the exercise of power. Power is necessary to protect self-interest. Self-interest always results in a severing of the connections between people and groups in society. Paul tells the Corinthians:

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who trust in him. 

The problem, Paul explains is that if human society is driven only by what we already know how to do, the familiar ways and means, business-as-usual – he refers to this as knowing only what the human spirit within tells us – we close-off to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. So then, how are the promptings of the Holy Spirit to be discerned?

Transpersonal psychology, is the psychology that understands that the ordering of the emotions, i.e. the personal life, is only the first phase of psychological work. The ordering of our relationship to the spiritual, i.e.the transpersonal life, remains the second phase of work. Transpersonal psychology makes a distinction between the lesser and greater self. The lesser self is shaped by the experiences of our personal autobiography, i.e. the events and experiences of our individual lives. Our experience of life is given particular meaning through the way we remember our personal history. Memory is a region of smoke and mirrors, which conditions our perception of experience. The memory of the lesser self is only ever partial. Its conclusions drawn for living life are consequently distorted by the emotion of fear.

The greater self is the lesser self, placed within a larger frame of collective and spiritual reference. This larger frame of reference connects us to our collective memories. Connected to collective consciousness society remembers how in the past our tendency towards business-as-usual has always produced unfortunate results. How quickly the exiles returning to Jerusalem forgot the lessons of their collective past. How short the collective memory span of the American public is. Disconnected from our collective consciousness, we remain destined to endlessly repeat the mistakes of the past.

The greater self opens us also to the promptings of the Spirit. Here we are continually refashioned by an encounter with life that reveals to us how interdependent we are upon one another and how dependant we are upon God. Living from the greater self reveals to us that individual prospering is intertwined with the individual wellbeing of others. My prosperity is dependant because it is interconnected with your wellbeing.

The voice of the Prophet Isaiah sounds to us across 2500 years of life lost in the living. Similarly, the words of the Apostle Paul confront us across 1900 years of wisdom lost in knowledge. T.S.Eliot concludes:

The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust[1].

Jesus had a pithy and somewhat enigmatic way of talking at times. He says: You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. Note, he does not say you are to be the salt of the earth nor does he say you are to become the light of the world. He says, you are! We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world when we live lives of love that unite us within a connection to both our collective memory and the prompting of the Spirit.

Love is expressed interpersonally through compassion and collectively through justice. At the personal level love includes self-acceptance, mutual-acceptance, toleration, forgiveness, self-giving service, humility. Collectively, the expression of love means agitating for justice, fighting inequity, embracing inclusion, practicing tolerance and extending mercy. Living lives of love is no sentimental project.

God called the Jewish exiles to return to the covenant he made with them as a people.  God continues to call us to also live in a covenant. Ours is not the covenant God made with Moses, but the New Covenant initiated by Jesus on the cross, and confirmed by God in the resurrection. It is a New Covenant in my blood reaffirmed each time we celebrate Eucharist together. This is a covenant into which we have all been baptized. Being salty and illuminated, we continue to be those who live the promises of our baptismal covenant.[2]

[1] Choruses from the Rock T.S Eliot.
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

[2]  Celebrant    Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
People         I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant    Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People         I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant   Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People         I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant   Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People        I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant   Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People        I will, with God’s help.
(Book of Common Prayer, pp. 304-305)

Christian Essentials 101: Who is God?


Episcopal-101 begins with and exploration of what I term Christian Essentials. Of course the Bible is part of what is essential, but I am separating it and it will appear in its own section within the course. A companion book Welcome to the Episcopal Church by Christopher L. Webber provides a narrative overview of what makes the Episcopal Church distinctive. In the Christian Essentials, I want to explore 5 key questions:

  1. Who is God?
  2. Who is Jesus?
  3. What is the Trinity?
  4. What is the Nicene Creed
  5. What is Baptism?

1. Who is God?

God is the Creator of the Universe as pictured in the first two chapters of Genesis. As I write this I note a flare-up in the debate between evolution and creationism. Our Anglican approach to God as creator pictured in Genesis is theological being based in an understanding that the Genesis accounts are truth as metaphor, not truth as science. I find it regrettable that the closure of the Canon of Scripture prevents us placing a third (big bang) account, which also, operates as truth as metaphor, alongside the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2.

The first two chapters of Genesis form independent narratives with different origins but each offering an account of the creation process. Chapter 1 envisions God as the one who brings order to chaos, which is pictured as the void. As God brings order to the chaos, separating earth from sky and air from sea, God fills the new order with different elements of life, mineral, vegetable, and animal. In making human beings God reaches the peak of the creative process. All the elements of creation reflect the goodness of God. In the human race, however, God fashions a part of the creation to be not only a reflection of Godself, but more importantly to be the part of creation capable of knowing God in the intimacy of relationship. Humanity is capable of both self-awareness and awareness of God.

We also learn something startling about God in the making of humanity as recorded in Chapter 1. What is startling is that God refers to Godself as we. God is revealed not as solitary but as relational for which the pronouns we, and our, are appropriate. God is a self-sufficient community of mutual love and the creation can be seen as the material self-communication of that love i.e. the sharing of Godself beyond the boundaries of the Divine Community. The creation that takes material shape within an ordered dimension of time, space, and matter is none other than an expression of love.

The second creation story takes up the theme of creation in a different way. In the first story humanity is the last act of creation. In Chapter 2 humanity is the first act of creation. The rest of creation is set between the creation of the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve. Eve is created to enable human beings to live in relationships that mirror the communal nature of God. Like God, human beings are made to be essentially relational. This second creation story envisions a complementarity between male and female that reflects the relational nature of God. Yet, God is neither male nor female but the principles of masculine and feminine energy can be found within the divine nature. Therefore, the complementarities of masculine and feminine being present in all human relationships, same gendered as well as cross gendered reflect the relational nature of God. We will explore this further when we come to discuss the Trinity.

In chapter 2 we learn something further about God. In this story, Adam and Eve are placed within the protected space called the Garden of Eden. In chapter 3 we learn of the dramatic happening in the Garden of Eden. Eve eats of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and shares the fruit with Adam. Christianity refers to this event as the Fall. I would like to suggest that instead of the Fall we think of the events in the garden as humanity’s premature coming of age. All I want to emphasize here is that this section of the story tells us that God’s original plan for humanity included giving us free will. I suspect that God did not intend for humanity to be so willful in the exercise of freedom of choice. Yet, viewed from a relational perspective, it indicates that God intended us to possess a true capacity for relationship. Relationships cannot exist between parties where one is free to accept and the other is not. Freedom of choice is a necessary ingredient for any true state of relationship.

Who is God? This is a back-to-front way of really asking, who are we or what does it mean to be human? The answer to this is that to be human is to be made in the image of God. To be fully human is to be most like God. We are made for relationship, with one another and with God. We possess the necessary element for relationship which is the freedom to choose or not choose. To be Christian is to know that to be human is to be most like God.

Spiritual Reflection Exercises

Over the coming week try, to spend some time each day reflecting on the following questions. The way to do this is to find somewhere to sit quietly at home or elsewhere and bring your attention to the rising and falling of your breath. Imagine the breath as deep within your belly rather than in your chest and simply observe yourself breathing. Through observing our breath we come easily into the presence of God for God is the breath that brings life. We also become aware of something so naturally a part of us that we hardly ever notice it happening. Breathing offers an image of the presence of God, present to us all the time yet, hardly noticed by us most of the time.

After a few minutes of settling begin to contemplate the questions. You don’t have to do all of them at one time. Let the question percolate in your thoughts and notice images or connections that seem to arise naturally for you. At the end of your time, end with an expression of gratitude for your life, your loves, and for your desire to come to know God more deeply. 

  1. What does it mean to me that I am made in the image of God and how might this realization change my view of God and or my view of myself?
  2. Is it important to me to discover that God is relational and a community rather than solitary and individual? If so how does this change relating to God for me? How might this affect how I relate to other people?
  3. Understanding that I have free will – freedom to respond or not to respond to God – how might this help me in the experience of life – day by day?

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