River Wissey Lovell Fuller

June 2011 Newsletter

June 2011

Keith examines the path t salvation and how can be interpreted by different people

When reading the Bible it is difficult to find many passages when Jesus complained, whether for himself or others (although they do exist!). On the whole he was more concerned with what was coming next, what he or his neighbour were going to do next, rather than with what had happened already.

I remember sometime ago chatting with a lady who was very worried that she had strayed from 'the straight and narrow path', so far that she could never find her way back - she was concerned that it was all too late for her to get her life back in order. She was actually a very good person, who had effectively devoted much of her adult life to the care of others who depended on her (far more heavily than the ordinary demands of a growing family). I explained to her that the 'path' to salvation was indeed straight and narrow - but was straight and narrow from where you are, not from where you were. There is not just one path, because everyone is starting from a personal somewhere which is at the very least disappointing, if not wholly bad! Everyone has their own path to try to follow. At the risk of trivialising a serious concern, it can be compared to the SatNav in your car, which quite simply recalculates the journey, if you stray from the one it initially tried to guide you to follow, as though you never were on a different route.

The biggest problem, I suspect, for most of us, as we try to do our best, is to manage the burden of past actions and failures, which to some, often to a major, degree we hug to our breasts and carry in painful silence. While we do this, looking constantly over our shoulders, we cannot keep our focus on doing the right thing as we move forward. [In passing, I cannot resist mentioning that the 'right' thing is often not the 'correct' thing to do - when the Americans executed Osama bin Laden, many may have felt it was 'just' (ie 'right'?), but it was probably not lawful and it certainly was not merciful.]

I am not sure how humanists handle this problem. I am not sure how 'mercy' and 'grace' enter into their philosophy, although I am sure most humanists are more often than not gracious and merciful. For the humanist who needs to receive grace and mercy, I am not sure where he knows he can go to receive them. Also I do not know enough about other religions; to say where Muslims or Hindus or Sikhs, etc go. But, one reason I am and remain a Christian is that I do know where to go to receive the grace and mercy which I so badly need. I know that if I try to follow that 'right' path from where I am, the burden that I carry will be lifted - I will receive, by grace, what I do not deserve and I will not receive, by mercy, what I do deserve. Part of the gracious gift is the gift, not just of forgiveness for past wrongdoing, but also the forgetting, the wiping the slate clean of them - just like the SatNav!

It's impossible not to fall into jargon to some extent (just as any enthusiast in any field finds the need to use specialised terminology) - so words like 'mercy' and 'grace' do not often find their way into normal conversation on the disco dance floor or in the village tea dance. But any civilisation or personal philosophy that does not rely on them (not the words but the reality) is a poor one - one thinks of the early Soviet Republics - and risks becoming de-humanised.

So, it can be seen that I espouse the opposite philosophy to that exposed in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam so beautifully translated by Edward Fitzgerald -

"7 Come fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring

The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:

The Bird of Time has but a little way

To fly - and Lo! The Bird is on the Wing

. . .

51 The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all the Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it."

'Repentance' is another buzz word for Christians, which excites groans from the non-initiates as they think of self-harming zealots, sitting on the top of impossible poles in the desert for years on end. Real repentance - which Omar did not understand (and indeed absolutely rejected, as the words above indicate) - means doing things differently from now on; starting again from wherever we find ourselves on a new path of innocence.

Sticking with poetry, Wordsworth's poem 'We are Seven' brings tears to my eyes whenever I read it - a story of simple innocence - a story of a child who has not yet strayed. I won't quote from it and there is not enough room here to include it all. Read it - it only takes two minutes.

[In passing, it is worth noting that 'straight' as it appears in the King James Bible does not mean 'straight' as we use it, but 'narrow' - as in 'strait-jacket' - perhaps an unfortunate metaphor!]

Keith MacLeod

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