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Divine Shiatsu

7th Sunday after Trinity BCP

30 July 2006 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

From today’s Prayer Book Collect ‘Increase in us true religion’

…published in the 17th Century possibly with earnest hope, and confidence, that the then English variety was superior to contintental expressions of religion, with possibly an admonishment to discern true from false religion. Whether it be ‘true’ or not, are we always clear what we mean when we talk about our religion…being bound… being tied again…re ligio? Or even re legere ….reading again (following Cicero)? Tied to God in Christ…bound up with the Book…knit together…the threads of this re ligio, we hope, weaving all these together, and more. Increase in us true religion. We might refer as well, to grown up, mature religion, as opposed to the increasing tendency, lazily, to infantalise our common life – and not only in modern times. Or maybe of the need to hold on to a super natural dimension in religion – resisting the temptation to make use of God for our own purposes, (as did those who in S. John’s version of today’s gospel reading would take Jesus by force and make him King) rather than leaving Him to take His own way.

There is of course a paradox in having to use the term religion at all, to describe a Gospel process, whereby we are called to become who God creates us and intends us to be – fully human and alive…not merely ‘religiously’ human. So in some senses, true religion needs to dispense with religion…and I guess we all recognise the times when we have tied ourselves and others up, in knots and confusions, and been bound to pale religiosity.

In recent decades the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, to stir inspire and increase true religion, has been much valued and re-received throughout Christendom. I attended an ecumenical Pentecost service a couple of years ago, and was intrigued to hear again some of the language of the 70s and 80s, as a local priest colleague read out prayers, which were essentially about liberation. She referred to the Holy Spirit who shocks and disturbs comfortable complacency…calling up anger and rage at injustice. An important spin on the work of the Spirit, but not the kind of aggressive language perhaps, which should have the last word.

With the proliferation of talk radio and so-called reality TV, we have seen also the advent of the ‘shock jock’, and an effort to grab ratings, by using ever more outrageous methods. And when it comes to extreme/provocative journalists, wasn’t The Spectactor light years ahead of Julie Burchill’s Guardian and Times columns, or The Sun’s Richard Littlejohn…(’who he’ and what is The Sun I hear you ask?!) So, maybe a Holy Spirit who looks back in anger, and shocks and disturbs, is a welcome guest in the modern world, whose parameters of extremes grow dangerously wider. There is a whole theology of rage and anger to confront complacent injustices.

Today’s gospel account follows on from the healing of a deaf-mute, and precedes the Pharisees getting wind of this miracle worker Jesus, whom they then try to trap. For me the miracle tasted by the 4000 is as much about teaching as about feeding. Our Lord was trying to get away – which he successfully accomplished, by boat with his disciples, after this wilderness banquet on Gentile soil. They were trying to withdraw, from the presence of the crowd, to be with God – to be still and know Him. But there is a danger of too much withdrawal…and genuine fellowship with God issues in being better prepared for fellowship with others…anything else is escapism, and not true religion. William Barclay describes the rhythm of the Christian life as the alternative meeting with God in the secret place, and serving men in the market place. (Barclay The Gospel of Mark) Thus the aim is for balance, between activity and withdrawal – a poised piety if you will.

Increase in us true religion - I guess we, at St. George’s are, by and large, a congregation of mature, well established Christians. For those of us who are long in the tooth regarding our faith, and not least priests who are ‘in the religion business’ as it were, there is a lovely interplay in today’s gospel. Namely, being on the one hand called and chosen to be a member of a close knit group, and on the other, just being one of the crowd. Just one amongst thousands. How healthy and life giving it would be for many a priest to be able to escape to the pew every now and then. All of us need to be aware of the dangers of a sort of spiritual repetitive stress injury, for which holding on, and gripping tighter, is the worst possible remedy. I once had a minor neck injury, which bothered me off and on for nearly 2 years – and it wasn’t the quick snap and shock and click of the chiropractor, or osteopath, which finally sorted it – but rather the patient easing of shiatsu massage. I imagine some others here will have tried it too. It is a much gentler approach, and works on the body’s pressure points gradually. Everything simply falls into place in its own good time…that is why I said today’s gospel is as much about teaching …Jesus fills the huge multitude, and the eucharistic significance of taking, thanking, breaking and giving, seeps gently into the consciousness of the Church, only afterwards. In our lives too - small acts of faithfulness to God, and tiny triumphs of obedience over the infirmity of our flesh, serve to ease those spiritual repetitive stress injuries. Gradually, our most beautiful identity is revealed – ye have your fruit unto holiness and true religion is increased.

Re ligio – we indeed tie ourselves again to God in word and sacrament and bind ourselves to the strong name of the Trinity, and are knit together in holy fellowship – we secretly know too, that we need the shock and disturbance of the Holy Spirit – a sort of spiritual osteopathy – but we know, as did the 13thC author, that a gentle approach… more akin to divine shiatsu, ought to have the last word.

What is soiled, make though pure;
What is wounded, work its cure;
What is parched, fructify;
What is rigid, gently bend;
What is frozen, warmly tend;
Straighten what goes erringly
Veni sancte Spiritus Tr. J.M. Neale
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