The east window in St Michael's Church, Stoke Prior has stained glass depicting the four Evangelists with Christ in their centre.
Their faces are faded as the stained glass is not of high quality.
Some are more faded than others and this gave me the idea to pick up on a book title by C S Lewis: "Till We Have Faces".
It's really not all over is until we ALL have faces. By then we will learned to sing Nunc Dimittis.
A story, probably apocryphal
A young child, 3 or 4 years old runs into to see they new born sibling and whispers urgently into the cot, “Quick, quick, tell me who made you! Where do you come from? I’m beginning to forget”.
Another story, doubtless also apocryphal
A small girl is asked by an elderly relative,
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The child replies,
“Well, I though I might like to be God,
but I suppose it’s too late to change now”
The Christian vocation is to be a person, to be a persona
To be that through whom God speaks ….. per sonera
It is to be the person
God means us to be,
Yet we have lost our faces,
we don’t know who we are because we’ve forgotten who made us
and where we come from and,
and that like Christ,
we come from God
and are going home to God
The Christian life
is about discovering who made us,
and whose image we bear
—it is not over till we all have faces.
Infant faith is learning to be family, and faith is natural, when all is well and healthy in a family. But this is also the time of loosing the bonds between parent and child. The umbilical has been cut and we must establish our ego. Sin at the origin is about alienation from others, from the cosmos and from God.
A crisis—we can call it going to school—marks the boundary between infancy and childhood. Children - up until 12 still wear a human face, non-innocently! But we are now beginning to forget what we look like, our faces is fading.
Establishing our ego is both a necessity and our fate. But it is not our destiny.
The spiritual infant is both uncomplicated
and already learning the word “No”. This is not innocency,
as St Augustine observed,
but, as he put it, non innocence.
PRAYER The description of how we grow through prayer that follows in these 5 "Faces" will be far too simple to satisfy some people, and will doubtless annoy or frustrate others... but it is nonetheless an accurate outline, albeit very generalised, of the way in which our understanding of prayer can grow. And growing our prayer is a vital part of growing our souls....
CHURCH: family. There is no concept of the Kingdom of God.
PRAYER: God bless mummy and daddy and....
We all begin life as infants who have to depend on someone else. Every baby should know nothing but love and care - though sadly it isn't always like that. This unearned love is the basis for all relationships, and all our understanding of God. When we are small we pray that that God will 'bless' and keep those who are closest to us. They are our whole world.
Then, for every one of us, comes the first crisis: something that takes us out of the home... like starting school
CHURCH: now becomes a friendly club and the Kingdom of God is a way of talking about God in the big world.
PRAYER At school, or its equivalent, we learn that not everything and everyone is kind and we become aware, as we pass through 6, 7 and 8 years old that the world is broken and needs to be fixed. Our prayer is still that God will 'bless' those closest to us, but we now ask God to fix the world and the bad things in it
Most children of this age love clubs, where they can belong and wear badges or uniforms and have adults who look after them. Any church that wants to have the attention of children must recognize that somewhere there must be this club element.
The song we we sing is
Gloria in exclesis
PRAYER: God please fix all the bad things in the world
Just as Matthew explores the humanity of Christ in his unique way, so Mark, terse and episodic, quitting Paul on his way round Turkey and causing, like all teenagers, great angst to Paul and Barnabas struggling over his inclusion stand for the exploration of adolescence The Lion suits Mark well, singular and a bit self conscious.
Puberty is the crisis that moves children on to adolescence. Adolescents want something different to a club, they want a gang which provides a cool identity, a set of clear definitions and a feeling of being in where others are out. Both academics (like James Fowler) and mystics (like Richard Rohr) point out that many people never leave the gang church.
Indeed the Church of England has a habit, reflecting the zeitgeist of privileging youth, of suggesting that gang churches are exemplars of missional churches!
There are gang churches in every tradition, evangelical, catholic and liberal. And it is essential for healthy spiritual growth that every Christian passes through the club and gang stages. Here the ego is well on the way to being established. Our human face is practically gone.
Gang churches have clear doctrines and often effectively, if not explicitly, define themselves by those they exclude… liberals, gays, fundamentalists, right wingers, left wingers, etc.
many adults never leave this stage.
Asserting this fact
may upset some folk!
CHURCH: my gang, we've got it, but they haven't. The Church and the Kingdom of God are not the same but the relationship between the two is unclear.
DISCIPLESHIP: Following Jesus
WORSHIP: feeling the Spirit and being blessed
… we are in the dark and Jesus is the light
AUTHORITY: vested in the leadership of my Church to which I defer
DIFFERENCE: a problem to be solved
The song we we sing is still
Gloria in exclesis
PRAYER: God please help me to fix the world and its problems
The crisis that precipitates a move from Lion to Ox is the crisis of taking on adult responsibilities and may take one of a myriad forms. Something “bounces” those who move on out of the gang and into a world where they now take responsibility themselves for what they believe—it isn’t just ‘coz the gang says so!
The ox lives in a herd, and but the adult herd is perhaps better called an association. The ego is finally shaped up and like Luke, a rounded and considered self is presented to the world. And all the traditions have congregations like this…. Many of our rural parishes are Lucan, adult, responsible and dependable. The job, it seems is done, and we have the solid, perhaps stolid, adult Christian.
Is this a mature Church?
Yes. And No.
Yes:- PCCs and Synods, theological colleges and training institutions, clergy and benches of Bishops are full of Lucan adults. They could not function without them—clear about who they are, what they believe but are willing, unlike the gang member to change their minds, and listen to other people and take a broader more accommodating view.
But No. Because what they think of as understanding the mind of Christ is, in reality, simply a mature ego and a confusion of the false self with the real self. So the Lucan church is where the arguments rage. Gang churches just ignore, or hurl abuse. Their egos are too weak.
But the ox have grown their egos and think they know themselves, and to some extent they do. They have the stamina to fight, and make up, and fall out and be friends. They’ve built their ego containers and are busy filling them with life’s experiences.
No one ought to be ordained until they’re an ox!
And the institutional church has a vested interest in telling the ox that they have 'arrived'. Because this ox is domesticated and docile. But now we have forgotten our human face completely!
CHURCH: my association, also,an army, a construction crew. The Church is a preparation for the Kingdom of God which we must work for and build.
DISCIPLESHIP: walking with Christ
WORSHIP: feeling the Spirit and being blessed, but also “doing it right” according out our tradition
AUTHORITY: vested in the leadership of my Church critically accepted by me
DIFFERENCE: can be interesting and enriching
KATAPHATIC: … we are in the dark and we are lights for the world
The song we sing is
PRAYER: God please fix me
We have achieved the purpose
not of life
but of what is only
the first half of life
where we have learned
to take hold
Many people will spend the rest of their lives with the face of an ox. And OK. Maybe that’s how it is. The institutional Church cannot function without them. If they grow beyond this stage they might begin to sit too light to its rules and regulations.
But some oxen look up and long to fly. And John-the -Eagle-faced tells us how. But the there will have been a deep, painful and life shattering crisis to make them look up. This next step simply cannot happen without something drastic. Both academics and mystics say the same. It may be illness, or redundancy, divorce or bereavement, an accident, or simply a catastrophic intellectual moment. And even then those who go through it might simply return to being ox and go on grazing. James Fowler thinks only 7% move through this crisis to a 'new face'.
Eagles have learned to fly, can be enjoy and love the company of others, love the families, and clubs and gangs and herds that pasture. But they have also learned the truth of solitude and contemplation. Only at this stage can contemplative prayer begin to do its work. It is a painful and exhilarating stage. But also dangerous, as too often the eagle lands, exhausted and thinks it’s still an ox or a lion. But once we’ve felt the wind in our wings the call to have the face of an eagle will draw us back to being a Church where morals and rules, and doctrines are at best structures to perch on, and pinnacles from which to fly. Many ox look up and disapprove of such indiscipline. After all, what would happen if everyone did that? Who would graze the pasture then?
But the eagle is not the last face we wear. Icarus flew too near the sun and his wings melted and he crashed. Saints fly into the sun and become part of it.
CHURCH: is the Body of Christ, family, univocity of being and the oneness of things. The Church and the Kingdom of God are like the music and the orchestra, the play and the acting. Which are which doesn't matter.
DISCIPLESHIP: Union with Christ.. beginning to remember who we are....
WORSHIP: silent music of God's praise
AUTHORITY: is actually not very interesting unless it is ex-ousia - out of being
DIFFERENCE: is an illusion
APOPHATIC… we are in the dark and that’s fine, because that’s where God is.
The song we sing is
PRAYER: God. That's all.
This is the face we wear
when we are entering
what Fr Richard Rohr OFM
calls the second half of life
We are learning
to let go
The last face we wear is the face of Christ, the new human.We remember, at long last, that our humanity is, and always was,God's image.
Fed by his body, nourished by his blood, enlivened by his life.
The Institutional Church encourages us to let infants be infants and know the Church as family. It encourages us to let children be club members and teenagers to have their gangs. Because we forget that we were born with a human face, reflecting the image of God, We soon replace it with the lion and the ox. And the institution loves the ox, biddable and conformist. But the eagle is for saints. And after all they’re a strange, unruly and oddball bunch. Let’s not encourage people to trade their ox face for an eagle face. Because then they might not do as they 're told!
God wants us not to have a human face, certainly not an ox or lion, not even indeed an eagle’s face. But the face of Christ himself, the new human, who is very God. Because that is the Gospel.
Not to spent eternity with God, but to be en Christo, IN CHRIST.
Not to stand before God, that’s not eternal life…. but to be the Body of Christ, one with God-who-is-love.
Why don’t we preach this, but preach believing the right things and praying that prayer, catechesis and morality and behaviour and good works and busy faith?
We preach Orthodoxy—right thinking, instead “Orthodoxa”—right glory? ….….
We are discouraged from preaching this because the institution would lose control.
There will be no institution in heaven!
Karl Rahner reportedly said “In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.”
Mysticism, rooted in contemplation can be taught at each stage but only bears fruit when we find our eagle’s face ….. only then will we be ready to fly the long migration home and find ourselves wearing the Face of Christ.
I know that the human institution of the Church is necessary and I am obedient to it. Fr Richard Rohr, a Franciscan, points out that Francis (such a worry to the institution of course) effectively said “don’t fight it, just model something better inside it”.
The Church of England still lets us do that, for now anyway. Alleluia! But to what extent are we so caught up in the institution that we are content to let our congregations be Gangs and Associations, according to the latest “church growth” theories?
How can we be Priests in a Church that has individuals who wear all these faces? Till we all have faces, till we all return to our original blessing, bearing the image, the face of God.
And learn like Simeon, and like Mary the Godbearer, and like Paul and the Ephesians, to sing Nunc Dimittis.