Now we see through a glass darkly. Yes, but. The Church of England may, just may, be beginning to see the light.
Suppose we think of the Word of God as pure white light. John Donne talked of a heaven where there would be no dazzling, nor darkness, but one equal light. But in this world we are unable to see the light of the Logos in all its clarity but look at everything through a glass, or prism. As we all learnt in physics, this means that what we are seeing is refracted light, literally distorted, broken down into its component colours. It is further ‘distorted’ by idiosyncracies in our own lenses.
Although we are warned not to create God in our own image, we can only see and understand God according to our own perspective – no amount of will can change that. Almost all of us read the Bible in translation into our vernacular, which further ‘refracts’ the original. Even scholars who understand Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac do so from a 21st century perspective, and their understanding of the language of the Early Christians at this distance in time must only be partial.
With my prismatic rainbow analogy, some will see the Word of God as red, some as blue and some as yellow. You may think there are seven colours in the rainbow. But to Pantone, there are more than 3,000 colours in our world. This was implicitly acknowledged in the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateralbut recently in the Anglican Communion the redd-ites have been thumping the table, hoping to persuade the green-ites to abandon their interpretation of the Word in favour of the ‘one true meaning’. And, of course, vice versa.
The Church has been drawn into endless pitched battles, incapable of resolution since everyone can see their own points of view so clearly. The Anglican Covenant was but one example of the Church being diverted from its true task into pointless attempts to make the reddites and the greenites see the same truth.
Archbishop Justin has made no such mistake. From the moment he talked to Giles Fraser about squaring the circle by means of perception, many of us hoped that he would be chosen as the next Cantuar, and our prayers have been answered. Of course it is an impossible task, but the Revd David Keen is not alone in sensing a change in the air.
Yes, we want women admitted to the episcopate as soon as possible. Some of us also hope for fairer and more loving treatment of the LGBT community. And after those two, others of us would like greater inclusion of (and less condescension to) the laity. But that must wait. To those who say that we cannot ask more people to join us in the Church until we have created a more worthy church (by women bishops etc), I have come to the conclusion, after several years of watching the internal wrangling at close quarters, that we will never get there by simply doing more of the same until the mills of God gradually grind us all down.
The only hope is for us to follow Archbishop Justin’s lead and concentrate on the pure white light that we know is behind the prism. And the good news that we are now being asked to share is knowledge of that white light, not the 3,000 colours and viewpoints it can be broken down into.
Laura Sykes, an occasional contributor to Paradoxical Thoughts, is the Editor of the Lay Anglicana website and blog, which aspires to be the unofficial voice of Anglican laity worldwide and to offer a place to exchange news and views from the pews.
Laura compares the perspective of her website, her blog, and herself to this quote from Anthony Trollope: “I trust … I shall not be thought to scoff at the pulpit, though some may imagine that I do not feel all the reverence that is due to the cloth. I may question the infallibility of the teachers, but I hope that I shall not therefore be accused of doubt as to the thing to be taught”. (Barchester Towers)