‘We believe in one God, maker….of all that is, seen and unseen.’ These are words from the creed that we shall say in a few minutes.
I often dwell on these words for it’s encouraging to me that in the midst of words that seek to define and pin down something of what we believe about God there is still a space for the unknown.
‘We believe in one God, maker….of all that is, seen and unseen.’
The first sentence in our first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews says something similar ‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’
Here the writer of that letter wrestles with the nature of faith, and writes of a ‘conviction’ that the presence of God is pervasive, even in the ‘things not seen.’
So, both those who fashioned the creed and the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews knew that whilst they wanted to say something about God, that which is ‘seen’ they also needed to leave space for that which is unknown about God ‘the unseen’.
It’s something that the poet T. S. Eliot knew well. Earlier in the year I called at a place called Little Gidding in Cambridgeshire. A tiny little hamlet set in the midst of open countryside with a small church.
After visiting there one afternoon he wrote a poem named after the place that became the last of his series of poems called The Four Quartets.
In the closing verses in what I have come to see as something of a creed for him. He writes:
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this CallingTaken from T.S.Eliot Collected Poems 1909-1962, 1974 edition page 222.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
Here Eliot reflects on the journey of life, and of how we human beings have a desire and a longing for meaning, he is right ‘we shall not cease from exploration.’
In so many ways this sense of exploring is what makes life interesting. Yet for me at least it isn’t an exploration taken in isolation but ‘by faith’ believing as I do that God is to be found and known in the midst of life.
Eliot, by the time he wrote these Four Quarters was a High-Church Anglican. He went to Mass daily and was a churchwarden at St. Stephen’s Gloucester Road in London.
So, he knew the value of practicing his faith through the daily routine of prayer and turning up to receive what our post communion prayer today memorably describes as ‘tokens of love.’
And yet he was alert and open to new possibilities, to exploration faithful to a God who was behind it all, who was and is ‘seen and unseen’.
But what has all this got to do with us? I suppose its something about both the life of the church, the culture in which we live and the kind of church we at St. Mary’s want to be.
For sometimes the language around faith, and more widely in our society has become too brittle and abrasive. Too interested in certainty and neat definition and not leaving enough space for searching and exploring.
Perhaps its shaped by fear and anxiety as we worry about the future but for me the interesting stuff about faith is less about defining what we believe more about a way of living. A way of living ‘by faith’ in an open space.
Remember some of those words of Eliot.
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
Our calling, drawn by the love of God is to keep on exploring, with open, inquisitive and curious hearts and minds.
Believing in, and faithful to the God at the heart of everything, the God who is ‘seen and unseen’ because there is always more to discover and learn.
‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ That word faith has its etymological root in the Latin, fides, ‘to trust’.
So the word faith is not so much a word about a set of ideas and propositions to believe rather a deep trust in God. Perhaps a simple creed for us might be some words of Bishop David Jenkins who once said ‘God is. God is as God is in Jesus, so there is hope.’
And if we are to take seriously the God who is revealed in Jesus then as I reflected a bit in the sermon last week, it changes our life, our priorities, the way we see each other and what we have.
For example, hear again some of Jesus’ words to us today ‘Sell your possessions’ he says. Why? Because the pursuit of treasure distorts our hearts, closes us down and draws us away from the God whose nature is self-giving love.
I think we struggle to see the unseen being revealed if our vision is impaired by closed and selfish hearts.
In an interview about her latest book a great searcher, the priest and writer Barbara Brown Taylor was asked in an age of so many different religious traditions, together with a growing apathy and indifference to faith what Christian mission looked like for her, she replied rather whimsically
Oh, it’s something about living a life that people would want to ask me about.Interview with Barbara Brown Taylor, Nomad Podcast Episode N201.
For me I’m interested most in those lives which embody that kind of openness of spirit that I want to know more and ask about. Those lives that make me think.
Those lives like T. S. Eliot who help us explore that which is unseen and grow, both in faith and in just being fully human.
And for the church, well I’m most interested in being part of a community of faith that seeks to be open and learning with Jesus at the centre nudging us forward day by day to be together as fully human as we can be. A Church that St. Mary’s is, and is I pray becoming.
As we gather around his table to receive the tokens of love that bare his presence, renew our hearts and minds O God, to live lives of faith framed with thanksgiving for that which is ‘seen and unseen.’