May Magazine leader

From the Vicar

The scientist and I engaged in conversation. He had already warned me that he was an atheist. “Of course”, he said, “you won’t believe in evolution”. “If you mean by that”, I replied, “the theory of Charles Darwin that life evolves through a process of natural selection which favours the survival of the fittest, then, no, I do not agree with that”. “I thought so” he replied, his worst fears about me confirmed. “What I believe”, I continued, “is the theory of Alfred Russel Wallace that life evolves through a process of natural selection which favours the survival of the fittest. Charles Darwin does not get a look in, here is Broadstone”. I had to explain to him who Wallace was, how he too had independently discovered the mechanics of evolution and how he had come to be buried in Broadstone. The scientist continued, "Well we scientists deal only in facts, you deal only in faith”. I challenged that. “What about the idea of the Big Bang?” I asked him, “As yet that has not been proved as a fact. It is very much what theologians would call a myth, which is a story which makes sense of the facts. Advances in physics will one day alter our perception of reality, yet again, and we will need to produce a new story to describe the facts before us. Or, to give another example, string theory is completely unproven, but it provides a really good way of marshalling what we observe to be true and in a way that makes sense of that truth.”

Language is needed to process and make sense of our experience of life and, if we do not have the language, then we struggle to come to terms with what has happened to us. Scientific language seeks to be very objective in naming the truth, but there is an ongoing process in which today’s language is always provisional. How we see things today will be changed by tomorrow’s insights. The physics of Newton must give way to the physics of Einstein.

When we consider religious experience, we are dealing with what is real in people’s lives. Yet often there can be a lack of the right language to put that experience into words. Jesus lived. He died in apparent failure. Yet a few days later those early disciples experience the truth that he had risen from the dead. The fact that their language was not up to describing their experience can be seen in the contradictory statements in the gospels. At one point Jesus can appear in a locked room, whilst in another he eats a piece of fish. It is hardly surprising that it took a couple of centuries before the Church would formulate what it believed in the form of the creed.

The last day of Easter is the Feast of Pentecost. The experience of those first disciples went beyond language. It was as if they had been blown over by a wind. It was as if their hearts had been set on fire. We are fortunate that we have the language of scripture to decipher religious experience. And it needs to work that way round. Rather than engaging in scholarly debate about what once happened, two millennia ago, we must open our lives to the possibility, in the present moment, that we might have that same experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit. God reaches out to us and seeks to evoke our response. We are called to experience God, in intimate relationship, and to have our lives transformed in the process.

So this letter brings with it my best wishes as we share together in the second half of Easter. Rather than feeling we ought to be joyful, I pray that we might all rediscover the joy that wells up from our very souls, that Christ gave all for us with a love than defeats even death. I pray too that Pentecost, when it comes, may be shared celebration of the Spirit who we experience at the heart of all life. The Lord is risen indeed and his Spirit is with us. Alleluia.

Nigel LLoyd


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