Posts Tagged ‘Prodigal Son’

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Greenbelt Festival – August Bank Holiday Weekend, 2010

August 31, 2010
Welcome to Greenbelt 2010

  

I have just returned from an inspiring and really encouraging weekend at this year’s Greenbelt festival at Cheltenham racecourse. It’s been for me a truly wonderful time, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I love Greenbelt because there’s the chance for just a few days of the year to be able to soak up the eclectic carnival atmosphere of thousands and thousands of people from  many different traditions and viewpoints gathering together for a celebration of art, music, poetry, politics and God in one large event. The shere variety of people from dribbling and chortling babies to children, to adolescents and young adults, to the worldly worn middle-aged and the open-minded mature and elderly – the sections of society represented at Greenbelt don’t fit the picture of normal church congregations – here is a much more varied and encouragingly multicoloured spectrum of people.   

Beauty in arts, craft and good conversation

Secondly, there’s the great opportunity to meet new people and make new friends or to catch up with family, old friends and colleagues in a uniquely open-minded, open-hearted, open spirited and celebratory environment. I have met numerous people this year – particular leaders who made a lastingly good impression on you at a time of growth and exploration in your life and faith; good friends you once worked closely  with on experimental projects who you have since lost contact with after you and they have moved to different parts of the country. There have also been those serendipitous meetings with people who were complete strangers, but over the course of the weekend and several coffees, wine and beer in disposable paper cups and some great conversations have become like soul friends and kindred spirits. As a Christian, an event like Greenbelt is so stimulating because there are so many possibilities – opportunities for gift, grace, humour, heart-felt emotion, tears and laughter. 

Colourful flags decorate the Cheltenham race course grandstand

A rainbow coloured celebration - people from all walks of life participate in Greenbelt

Perhaps, equally important to all the opportunities to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, and if not more significant than seeing the wide variety of people who find help, grace and a sense of deep belonging through relationship with God and Jesus, are the occasions of divine ‘eruption’ that break into our ordinary lives through great speakers and artistic, musical events centred on giving worth and valuing God. For me personally, there were a number of occasions where I felt I met not just with a well crafted and intelligent, thoughtful talk, but experienced an encounter with  the Living God – the Divine power, presence and personalities that created the whole of our awe-inspiring and breathtaking universe.   

At 9am on saturday morning, bleary eyed and un-caffienated I managed to drag myself from my tent to find an unoccupied space of green grass in the  Big Top to listen to the harmonious vocals and melodic acoustic guitars of Andy Flanagan and friends leading singing and worship of God.   

I wonder if someone who isn’t a Christian, or a believer in some kind of God, can understand the special moments that take place when beautiful, aesthetically pleasing music combines with an internal knowledge and realisation that you are singing not just into the air and expressing the deep-seated feelings and aspirations of one’s soul, but also communicating – intimately, gently, in a kind of perfect child-like innocence with a Divine Presence that is Love. I know from before I was a Christian that good music and art can bring people to such emotional heights as an artist expresses great truth or beauty in an aesthetic medium that does not bypass reason, but transcends it a brings a person into the realm of the sublime. But somehow…true worship…good worship is MORE than this. It is all of the above, yet it is also unadulterated, raw communication with the Holy teased out and enwrapped in the tenderest perfect love. One experiences not just the deep-seated longing and desires for a true and just and forgiving life and universe. One experiences, a simple, quiet, gentle voice whispering love songs back to you. Affirming in the deepest most emotionally tangible way and yet physically and visibly illusive a voice saying, “Yes, you are loved. All of you. Even with those parts of you that you feel you cannot show the rest of the world – you are loved…and yes, those hopes you had as a child to be a princess in a happy ending fairy tale or those dreams you longed to fulfil to be a knight in shinning armour defeating the enemies of justice and oppressors of the poor, and rescuing the beautiful damsel in distress….They were NOT fantasy. They were REAL. They were You and they were Me trying to teach you…help you to understand your role in all of this in language and images you – a child – could understand. I AFFIRM your desires for love, for justice, for peace, for acceptance, for forgiveness. I AFFIRM YOU, whatever the world or church or christians or priests or ministers or congregations think of you. I…GOD…affirm YOU. YOU ARE LOVED.”   

It’s difficult to explain, but that’s how worship can feel – like a beautiful, intimate, tender dialogue – simplified perhaps as God saying: “You are loved.”   

I had that experience participating in the worship on saturday morning as Andy Flanagan, a small group of musicians and a talented young actress brought together a superb musical and dramatised journey through the story of Mary of Bethany’s love of Jesus, loss of her brother Lazarus and gratitude to Jesus for bringing him back to life. A very touching experience.   

Vibrant colours and flags flowing in the wind of the Spirit represent the variety of humanity and the movement of God's Spirit at Greenbelt

Mark Yaconelli – Our Desires, the Prodigal Son and a God of Compassion

Listening to mature and wise writers and speakers like Richard Rohr, Simon Parke and Lawrence Freeman speak on matters from the importance of holistic worldview to the tortured lives of mystical geniuses such as Van Gogh, Leo Tolstoy and Meister Eckart or on how to practise contemplative prayer were among the highlights of this year’s festival for me. However, the great spiritual breakthroughs for me this weekend came hearing North American author and youth specialist Mark Yaconelli speak on the true nature of our ‘desires’ and on the nature of God in Jesus of Nazareth as a God of weakness and vulnerability, rather than conceived of as an abstract all-powerful, all-controlling and dictatorial Deity ‘up’ in heaven.   

  

 I have never heard Mark speak before, yet listening to him this weekend communicate so passionately and inspirationally the Love of God for human beings – all people – represented for me, two of the highlights of my religious journey and human life. Some of the ideas I had encountered before, yet others were original and new to me. However, what struck me in particular was the bringing together of the ideas with moving real life, true stories. One idea that I had never met before was the notion that the Father in the Prodigal Son story approves generously of the prodigal son’s ‘desire’ to escape the Father’s House and find himself/express himself in the world. I had always thought that the Father (and therefore by implication God) only reluctantly and regretfully releases his younger child into the big, open world. Mark turned this action of releasing around, into a Father who longs to see his child venture out, experiment and express their desires for creativity and self-fulfilment in the wider world. For me this was a new and poignant revelation, made all the more moving by the personal testimonies Mark told which made us laugh out loud and quietly cry at the irony of the passions of adolescent and young people’s desires managing to find expression in spite of the stifling repression in traditional and conservative religion. Thanks Mark, for all your patient work with young people and for not losing hope in a God who is vulnerable and weak, a God who rejoices, not resents when people discover their true desires in their hearts and have the courage to live them out. Thanks also for believing in the God who can redeem and heal all of us. Both those people, like the Prodigal, who are themselves wounded and living in an injured world fall into the trap of abusing their desires and hurting others in the process AND those who out of a desire to do the right thing bury their feelings and passions and end up trapped in dutiful lives, feeling unappreciated and unloved by parental figures and God and feel resentful toward their wasteful and self-indulgent peers.   

Mark Yaconelli’s talks can be bought and downloaded from the Greenbelt website.  

  

More flags at Greenbelt, Bank Holiday Weekend August 2010

 

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Spiritual Temperaments – Experiencing the Divine through the Senses (2 of 9)

April 14, 2010
 
 
‘Sensate(s)…want to be lost in the awe, beauty, and splendour of God. They are drawn particularly to the liturgical, the majestic, the grand. When sensate people worship, they want to be filled with sights, sounds, and smells that overwhelm them. Incense, intricate architecture, classical music, and formal language send their hearts soaring.’
 Sacred Pathways – Gary Thomas, P.23
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A Mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator (Creator of All) from the Hagia Sopia Constantinople

 

 Thomas’ second group of people  are ‘sensates’.  These people find it first and foremost easiest to relate to the transcendent through the five senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Religious Traditions across the world have used practices which communicate through all of the senses, a vivid example being Hindu worship of Indian deities, which often involves fire, water, food, flowers, pictures and incense. Western culture, however, especially in Northern Europe has over the centuries  turned its back on sensuous practices for a more austere and bland kind of religion.  This development was firstly influenced by the Protestant Reformation’s rejection of Roman Catholic rituals and iconography in the sixteenth century, in favour of a religion based solely on the ‘Word of God’, i.e.  the preaching and singing of the Bible. Furthermore, it was also shaped by the industrial revolution and a modernistic emphasis on proving the rightness of ideas purely through rational argument. Even today many non-Conformist church buildings and services are very minimalistic and with little decoration. 

Yet, a very sensuous kind of worship in European culture has always been evident in the Eastern Orthodox church,where ornate architecture and vivid, stylised icons, combine with ritualistic liturgies and practices such as the burning of incense, lighting of candles, kissing of icons and annointing with oil.

 

Lighting a candle can be a special form of prayer

 

The above photograph depicts a scene from a Bulgarian Orthodox church, but it reminds me of my years spent liiving, studying and working in Romania. In every Orthodox church I visited in Romania there is a place to remember friends, family and hurting people by lighting a candle. When I was far away from home it felt to me like a powerful and touching way of praying for my distant relatives and friends. Sometimes when it was difficult to pray in long sentences, the gesture of lighting a candle in the darkness seemed to speak much more clearly and profoundly to God and to my soul than I could with mere words.

 

Thomas writes in his book Sacred Pathways (pages 51-61) that he percieves Dutch Roman Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen to be a sensate Christian. He is struck by Nouwen’s description of his encounter with Rembrandt’s painting – The Return of the Prodigal Son – described in his book by the same title. Nouwen writes how he was visiting a friend after a busy and exhausting lecture tour. While sitting in his friend’s office he was taken aback by a poster of  Rembrandt’s painting on the wall. Nouwen describes how at that point in time the painting communicated to him deeply exactly what he felt that he needed. Simply, to kneel in front of a Father God and be embraced. Moved by the encounter with the picture, Nouwen then set about trying to arrange a visit to Moscow, where The Return of the Prodigal Son is exhibited, to see the painting at first hand.

 

For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' Luke 15:24

 

Rembrandt’s painting has a very sensuous presence. Painted in rich colours, subtle tones and hues, with dim lighting surrounded by deep shadows. A blood red robed elderly Father gently envelopes the destitute son barely covered in rags, as other characters from the story and the Gospels look on. As viewers we might take in some of the senses involved in this picture. Touch especially, is winsomely communicated. The softness of the Father’s luxurious clothing, the human, non-threatening warmth of  both Father and Son’s  reunion embrace. Perhaps, we might also imagine the scene effecting our sense of smell as the woody fragrant spices the Father is wearing and the unpleasant reeking of the son -unwashed and unclean, having worked in a farm feeding pigs, blend together in a very human scene of  a wealthy father welcoming a poor son. At the same time sight is obviously involved. The lighting is intimate, bathing the scene of familial reconciliation in gentle amber light while all around is in darkness and shadow.

If a painting such as the one above and traditional religious devotion inspires you then you may well be a Sensate. Thomas asks the following questions (page 66). Marking each question 1 to 5, with five being very true and one being not true at all.

  1. I feel closest to God when I’m in a church that allows my senses to come alive – when I can see, smell, hear and almost taste his majesty.
  2. I enjoy attending a “high church” service with incense and formal Communion or Eucharist.
  3. I’d have a difficult time worshipping in a church building that is plain and lacks a sense of awe or majesty. Beauty is very important to me, and I have a difficult time worshipping though second-rate Christian art or music.
  4. The words sesnsuous, colourful and aromatic are very appealing to me.
  5. I would find a book called Beauty and the Transcendent interesting to read.
  6. I would like to explore prayer through drawing, art and music.

 A high score between 15 and 30 would indicate that you have a disposition oriented towards experiencing the world and God through the five senses.