You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
Recently I read Meeting God in Paul by Professor Rowan Williams, one time Archbishop of Canterbury. In its early pages he describes the environment in which Paul, a Jewish Roman citizen worked. One of the things that struck me was Professor Williams’ statement that there was no such thing as ‘a religion’ in the Roman Empire at the time. People did religious things and indeed there were countless deities but they were simply part of the universe. As one needed to be polite to people of a superior social status, since they could make life difficult for one, so it paid to be polite to the gods, as they could make life even more difficult! There were a variety of festivals at the various temples to attend if one wished but there was no sense of belonging to a religion – they were not what we might today call faith communities. Being religious was part of being a citizen. In other words our first century forebears did not make the distinction between a secular life and a spiritual one; to them it was all part of life. Our Jewish forebears were the exception that proved the rule for they attended synagogue regularly, but that was simply because they were Jewish. Indeed on the dedication of their first stone temple, “Solomon’s Temple,” the Shekinah glory of YHWH (fire and cloud from heaven) descended and filled the Temple (1 Kings 8:10-13), just as it had once filled the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 40:34-35). This naturally made Solomon’s Temple the centre of the whole world, in Jewish thinking.
Too often nowadays we tend to separate the secular from the spiritual. Too often we can think of God living in that Victorian monstrosity in the centre of town whose doors are locked throughout the week to prevent anyone getting in, but opened on Sundays to allow the select, privileged, invited few to perform their rituals. Yet God does not dwell in some plaster icon gathering dust on the wall of a church. For as St Paul loved to say, “You are the Temple!” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21-22). In other words God lives in you! God is not distant or aloof; He wants us to have a relationship with Him. God is everywhere in every living thing. You do not need to go to a church to meet God, He is right there, before you, behind you, alongside you, every step of the way. Of course, you will meet God in the fellowship of your Christian family at church and of course you will encounter God in the Eucharist, which is vital. But you will also find God in the smile of a child, the thanks of someone you may have helped, or even in the plants of the garden. There is no division between a secular life and a spiritual one.
The most comforting message of all however is this: ‘And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age’ Matthew 28:20.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years