Monthly Letter to the Parish - July 2019
An Oxford Professor, a Special Day and some Special Moments
The day of the Avening Fete also coincided with a special day in the church calendar. Called 'Pentecost' it may be seen as the birthday of the church. We recall that motley collection of individuals, Jesus' disciples, who had been through so many ups and downs: after the departure of Jesus they must have been wondering what, if anything, was going to happen next. We are told that, gathered together in a state of uncertainty, they experienced something akin to a noise like a gusting wind and tongues of fire. Whatever this might have been, it transformed them: they saw themselves and the people and world around them in a very different way - this inspiration led them to build a community of people following the way of life described by Christ. This was the start of something that we now see in Christian communities across the world.
One person who became very interested in 'special moments' such as that above, was Alistair Hardy. After his retirement as Professor of Zoology at Oxford he set up a research team: they asked several thousand people the question "Have you ever been aware of, or influenced by, a presence or power, whether you call it God or not, which is different from your everyday self?" They were amazed to find that over a half of respondents said that they had known such experiences.
The American, Thomas Merton, describes his experience of standing on the corner of a busy street in a large city: "I loved all these people, they were mine and I theirs ... it was like waking from a dream of separateness ... to take your place as a member of the human race. I had the immense joy of being man, a member of the race in which God himself had become incarnate. If only everybody could realize this. There is no way of telling people that they are walking around shining like the sun."
Christians often use the term 'Holy Spirit' in many ways including to describe the nature of these 'different' moments - a special insight and a gift from God. Some would say that, in principle at least, every moment is a special gift of the Holy Spirit who sustains us continuously.
Whether or not we use the language of Holy Spirit, there is every encouragement here to be sensitive to those thoughts and feelings that take us beyond ourselves, and into ourselves.