Brother Ivo enjoys occasional listening to Melvyn Bragg’s radio programme ” In our time” as he explores a variety of eclectic issues with the help of specialists in a variety of disciplines.
In the latest edition, the panel were discussing “Complexity” and although Brother Ivo missed much of the programme he enjoyed the use of a striking phrase during the explorations.
Complexity can apparently lead one towards -and doubtless over – the “edge of chaos”.
They might have been reviewing some of Brother Ivo’s sermons!
That is, perhaps a little harsh, but if Advent is a time for reflection and self examination, it is no bad thing to develop self-awareness.
One of the great things about Mr Bragg is that he and his researchers have well furnished minds and a wide range of intellectual curiosities. Doubtless it makes him good company and a stimulating questioner, for the more one knows, the wider the perspective from which questions may be asked.
In Brother Ivo’s teaching and preaching, he has used a variety of both starting points and reference points when exploring biblical passages. Sometimes he suspects that he is like the military officer whose men would follow him anywhere, largely out of curiosity.
We should not, however, apologise for refreshing well known stories by approaching them from unlikely angles. When Jesus taught in parables, which some have described as “visual aids”, he approached the nature of the divine through a disparate variety of images. Faith could be likened to new wine, God could be pictured as a housewife sweeping the house in search of a lost coin, and as soon as we hear of a sower, we are with him in the field broadcasting the seeds into the wind.
They are images which still engage us, so Brother Ivo does not feel too bad when he invites folk to think about God and His nature from a new starting point; some of those starting points have included a country and western song, an Eschler drawing or more recently a doughnut!
Perhaps there are two types of preacher. There are those who see a theological boundary and enforce it, and those who see it and wonder if it can be pushed.
Jesus pushed boundaries all the time, but he of course had the authority to do so.
There is a time to follow in his footsteps, and to seek new ways of engaging modern people with old ideas.
There was much boundary pushing in the early centuries of Christianity as many documents emerged of varying weight and authenticity, each claiming to have captured elements of Jesus’ teaching. Some texts and ideas came to be recognised as very reliable, others as less so and some as frankly deviant. The lengthy process of discernment led us eventually to an orthodox theology and a largely agreed biblical Canon.
Yet the boundaries are still surveyed, evaluated and expressed in modern forms and liturgies which delight some and trouble others. It is a constant source of tension and relaxation within the Church.
Even those of us who feel called to be open to innovation however, need to recognise that as every generation reflects upon the Gospel, and adds another layer of scholarship, interpretation or expression, we do risk approaching that “edge of chaos”.
For those bold souls, Advent comes as a sound reminder to draw us back to simplicity.
That simplicity need not be ancient.
Brother Ivo is constantly attracted to that simplest article of faith offered by Bishop Michael Jenkins who offered the 14 word creed.
” God is, He is as He is in Jesus Christ, so there is hope”
Some folk exploring faith for the first time, can find its narrow focus helpful in keeping to the big issues.
In similar form the return to the Jesus prayer at this time has much to commend it.
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner.”
The minimalism of such approaches, the austerity, is appropriate for the penitential season which is Advent.
We shall soon come to Christmas Eve and our Crib Services where richness of imagery and the complexity of the story of redemption will return and we shall again begin to explore what it all means in 2014. Complexity will always return to our theological systems, with each new contribution.
The approach to the Nativity at Christmas is however best done with simplicity.
Brother Ivo has a fond memory of holding the hand a a two year old and walking with her through a darkened Church towards the light in which the crib came into focus. That sense of wonder, simplicity, and trust during the approach remains with him as a source of inspiration and delight.
Complexity and sophistication can come later, but to begin with the simplest approach is the best
We need to distance ourselves from the edge of chaos and use our Advents productively if we are to do so.
If Brother Ivo may revert to his eclectic style, Advent needs to be is like rebooting one’s computer in the face of a glitch caused by over complexity in the operating system. One decides to close it down with a degree of trepidation, there may be an anxious pause, but suddenly all the familiar icons begin appearing in their proper place and confidence is restored.
So we shall find our faith after our Advent reboot.
The poor will arrive first having been the first to receive their invitationst; the wise will kneel; the ox and the ass will be content to just be, whilst the heavens shall mark the occasion by being extraordinary.
It all starts however by looking over the edge of chaos, realising that a clean up is required and deciding that, despite the risks, it really is time to start again