We hear the Word, our hearts receive it, and our wills, by faith, and under grace, respond. But we have to hear the Word.
And yet the Word is at least a most wonderfully complex and subtle amalgam of history, adventure, poetry, song, preaching, prophecy, theology and much else besides; and ultimately, it is Jesus, our Saviour, himself. (John 1:1)
I have sometimes inveighed in this blog against reading the Bible as if it were a set of instructions for some mechanism, applying it like a rulebook for some totalitarian regime. This is plainly foolish, since were that to be the method recommended by the Holy Spirit, the book he inspired and guided would be set out as a rulebook, an unambiguous catalogue of dos and don'ts, and it is about as far from that as you can get. It is full of the grace and mercy of God, and of the complexity and the contradictory nature of the human heart (Romans 7:18-20 ).
Yet the opposite is also true. All religions are not the same. As Christians we are not merely in the position of so many of us in my youth, wandering starry (glassy?) eyed from one faith to another philosophy, from one mantra to another psychedelic substance. We have been given Jesus' teachings, and the Old Testament in whose soil they grew, and which prophesied his coming, and if we follow those teachings, we will know the truth, and that truth will set us free (John 8:31-32).
Confessing Evangelical remarks in a recent post:
The Christian revelation achieves this in at least two ways. First, in the person of Jesus himself: the incarnate Word. Any word about God will inevitably be reductive, giving only "the impression of capturing reality". However, in Jesus we see not a word about God, but the Word who is God. To know God, therefore, is not a matter of hearing and understanding words about God, but about relating to Jesus as the Word...
So we have the Word which washes us, the Word which we eat and drink. Neither of these is less than the Word which we hear with our ears, nor is that Word set aside or superseded. Rather, the sacraments are a means by which our whole person, body and soul, conscious and unconscious (or "pre-conscious" in the case of an infant being baptised), encounters and receives that Word.
In that context, not only are the sacraments a vehicle for the Word, but the Word itself becomes sacramental. The Word that we hear with our ears (or read with our eyes) becomes more than merely a conscious reception of words about Jesus (and hence about God), but a place where we encounter Jesus himself. This is especially true in the reading of Scripture and preaching of the gospel in church. Superficially these can seem to us to be only a conscious hearing of words about Jesus. However, understood sacramentally, it is Jesus himself who speaks to our whole person through them.All this "cannot be expressed with words, and it cannot be expressed without words"; it can only be received by faith, through the work of the Holy Spirit.
This increasing hunger for God's word, and for a community which lives and prays in its beautiful light (Psalm 119:105) led first Jan, and then me, to search for such things in our own area. We are home at last in a little Baptist church in a nearby village - a young church, planted out of a long-established church in one of the neighbouring seaside towns, full of joy and hope, and of people of every age and background.
I am still a Franciscan, of course: increasingly, I recall Francis and Clare as people who were faithful to the Word and in prayer, who could hold action and contemplation, life according to the Word and the Spirit, in creative tension rather than in opposition. This is exactly where I find myself, and I have to remain true to the call that has brought me here.