Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

Posts Tagged "Heraclitus":

Conversing with Elizaphanian: Metamorphosis and Stasis

Is there a stable place to rest at the end of the progressive path?

This is the question posed by Elizaphanian (The Revd Sam Norton) on January 25th, and which I have been mulling over ever since. I suggest you read the whole post, but among other things he says the following:

 Western society has embarked upon a radical restructuring of its cultural life in three inter-related issues, to do with homosexuality, marriage and divorce, and the economic role of women. The classical understanding of the church, that sexuality is only to be expressed within a heterosexual marriage, has been widely abandoned…The church has been caught up in this cultural change and is now at risk of opprobrium and worse if it does not, in David Cameron’s ill-chosen words, ‘get with the programme’…The RC stance…has proven workable for thousands of years…Does the progressive, secular, post-Protestant form of Christianity have a destination?…Having said all that, I remain quite open to the idea that the Spirit is genuinely behind all these developments…and I certainly can’t see our society reversing many of them. Yet, as I also see our society as heading down the tubes with great rapidity, I don’t see that latter point as bearing much theological weight. I genuinely don’t know the answer to this, but it is what I am thinking about.

The short answer to the question.

My short answer to this question is ‘No’.

The slightly longer answer

First, it must be said that the question is perfectly understandable, and is widely being asked. The inference is that if the progressive path cannot offer a stable place to rest, it is unreasonable to expect the general public to follow the path.

The question is not a new one, and nor is my answer. Heraclitus, for one, got there first: All is flux, nothing stays still or, in other words, Nothing endures but change.

Differing roles of God and the Church

Since the dawn of time, one of the reasons people have believed in the gods is that life seems full of capricious change. One or more supreme beings seem to offer the only possibility of stability. We pray: ‘ protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we, who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may repose upon thy eternal changelessness‘.

Over the years, the Church has seemed to represent the deity in offering a haven of stability. It is easy to see how God and the Church have become confused in the psyche of churchgoers, but the Church is a human institution and is not in a position to offer ‘eternal changelessness’. To do so would be like trying to ride a bicycle without moving – you would soon fall off.

There is no advice in the Bible about how to manage the Church after 2,000 years of history (unless you know otherwise?). St Paul’s epistles are full of advice to churches which are newly set-up and, although much of it still applies to us, the task that we face in the 21st century is, I suggest, that of enabling the mighty, rushing wind of the Holy Spirit to blow through the dusty corners  of the Church, and not to try and keep it out by means of draught excluders.

Does the Holy Spirit offer a stable place to rest?

Possibly. From time to time.  But ‘he is not a tame lion, you know‘. And my hunch is that, after a very long period in which the Church has tried to plug the leaking dike and hold back the sea, in a period of stasis, the time has now come for metamorphosis.’Not for ever by still waters, would we idly rest and stay. But would smite the living fountains from the rocks along our way.‘ Psalm 104:10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains.Psalm 105:41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert. Psalm 107:35 He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs;Psalm 114:8 who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.

I also think that in this life there is no room for ‘changelessness’: this is something we are promised in the hereafter. But for now there is work to be done.

Do we know where the progressive path will lead us?

No, we don’t entirely. We know where we would like it to take us as soon as possible – the raising of women to the episcopate, the inclusion of LGBT people, and the empowerment of the laity. In shorthand, a Church of all the talents.

But there will be unforeseen and unintended consequences. Unforeseen and unintended by us, that is. I wonder what God wants?

The illustration is Heraclitus (c.1630) by Johannes Moreelse (c. 1603–1634) via Wikimedia

We All Dance To The Music Of Time

The Sardana

In Barcelona’s Plaça de Sant Jaume, there is always a group of people dancing the Sardana. According to wikipedia, this dance was banned during the Franco régime as a Catalan nationalist symbol, but in this at least they are wrong, for in 1965  I was among a group of students who went to the square and joined in the dance for a few minutes. It is not as easy as it looks, and we soon dropped out in favour of watching instead. I am tempted to say, looking at the age of the participants in this youtube video, that some of them look as if they have themselves been dancing continuously since 1965 but, generally speaking, the dance goes on while the dancers come and go to the music of time.

The River that is Twitter

This is how I think about social media, twitter in particular. You can decide to while away the afternoon in the twittersphere but you cannot predict what turn the conversation will take. Beyond the rule about 140 characters, every twitter session is different. Sometimes it is like watching one of those complicated opera arias, with perhaps four different people singing their hearts out about completely different topics simultaneously. It is exhilarating -and sometimes surreal- to try and participate in four conversations at once, with subjects ranging from the sublime to the mundane. Sometimes there are a dozen or more taking part in or looking in on the same conversation. But there are also conversations which take place in different time zones. If someone in the USA tells a joke at tea time, you may be asleep and unable to LOL or even ROFL until the following morning, perhaps ten hours later, by which time any repartee you can offer has rather lost its point. My twitter stream may be more homogenous than some people’s, because I choose to follow chiefly those involved in the Church or politics. I like the fact that most of the people I follow are also followed by the people who follow me (still with me?), in other words I enjoy being part of a network, which others in the network also seem to enjoy.


You Cannot Step into the Same River Twice

But, as Heraclitus  almost pointed out, you cannot step into the same twitter session twice. If you have a conversation over breakfast with a group of congenial people, you cannot pick up the conversation over dinner. This is partly because the twittersphere, like the river, has moved on. But it is also because you have moved on. You are a different person at dinner from the one you were at breakfast, albeit infinitesimally so. The cells in your body have changed and the world has changed with you. Wait a week, a month or a year and the differences are more marked.


What Has All This to do with the Christian Life?

In case you are wondering whether I am ever going to get to the point – whether indeed there is a point to this post –  here it is: we have just begun what is for me my 63rd church year. On the face of it, when it is the sixty-third time you have been told a story, you might think it is difficult to pay attention, let alone get excited. BUT I am not the same person – I have been a different person every year for the last sixty-three years. And it is not the same story. The story changes every year because I see different things in it.

Brother Charles, an American Franciscan priest, expresses this better than I possibly can, and will I hope not mind my quoting him:

…we exist in time, but God is eternal. So there is no before or after with God; there is nothing that God is doing tomorrow that he is not doing now. With God there is only a Now, a nunc stans¸ as the scholastic theologians liked to say… This is why the presence of God  always seems new and fresh, and is refreshing for the soul, because God is always Now. This arriving presence in our hearts is the real desire of our souls—a desire we so often squander on things that are less than God and will not satisfy…   Let’s begin again, for the first time, to wait for the God who wants to speak the Word of his own self from within each of us.



This post was written for The Big Bible Project as a Digidisciple on 5 December 2011.

The photograph of a Sardana was taken at La Verema in September 2010 by  Natursports /

The picture is by Nicolas Poussin, A Dance to the Music of Time, which formed the title and  backdrop to the Anthony Powell series of the same name about a group of people over a period of years, and is made available by wikimedia under a creative commons licence.

We rely on donations to keep this website running.