Tag Archives: Jesus

A highly improbable universe. Notes from the Book club.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God –  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John 1:1-5, 9-14)

Imagine a chilly desert night. Jesus and His friends gathered around a fire. One of them leans back, looks up at the stars and says: ‘Tell us how it all started Rabbi’. So Jesus starts ‘In the beginning…’ and they all settle back to hear the familiar story. But instead of the story they all know He begins to talk about a word, an idea, being the start of it all and He himself is the Word, and caused all things to be made. Not the normal story of animals, plants and people but a universe born out of an idea and a person.

He wouldn’t have got it out in one go. There would have been questions, lots of them. But through it all John sat quietly, listening, his poet’s brain working out how to write the conversation down.

To me, it makes perfect sense. If God needed to create a universe with living breathing creatures that could be his children; if He wanted His own son to become a living breathing human being and be with these creatures then this would be the way to do it. The purpose was there right from the start. It is the most human purpose of all, to create a family.

God's Undertaker bookOur book for this week was ‘God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?’ by John Lennox. The answer to the question is no, but more than that, it seems that science is revealing God, bit by bit. This can be a bit unnerving for the scientists involved. Here are some quotes from the book:

The remarkable picture that is gradually emerging from modern physics and cosmology is one of a universe whose fundamental forces are amazingly, intricately, and delicately balanced or ‘fine tuned’ in order for the universe to sustain life. Recent research has shown that many of the fundamental constants of nature, from the energy levels in the carbon atom to the rate at which the universe is expanding, have just the right values for life to exist. Change any of them, just a little, and the universe would become hostile to life and incapable of supporting it.

Theoretical physicist Paul Davies tells us that, if the ratio of the nuclear strong force to the electromagnetic force had been different by 1 part in 10 to the power of 16 (10 with 16 zeros after it), no starts could have formed.

The distance from the earth to the sun must be just right. Too near and water would evaporate, too far and the earth would be too cold for life… Astrophysicist Hugh Ross lists many such parameters that have to be fine tuned for life to be possible, and makes a rough but conservative calculation that the chance of one such planet existing in the universe is about 1 in 10 to the power of 30.

We were much taken by the sheer improbability of the universe. This does seem to show a real intelligence in its design.  And this does not mean that we need to find the ‘gaps’ in science to make God real (I am in debt to Wendy for pointing out my tendency to fall into the ‘God of the Gaps’ error). For instance there is currently almost no evidence for how individual species get started. The fossil records do not show a gradual change between one species and another. What they actually show is new species coming into being very suddenly and then staying the same for millions of years. They then die out and are replaced by other species.

Once we know this it is tempting to say ‘Oh, that means God steps in and miraculously creates new species’. Well that could be the case or it could be that there is a scientific and physical explanation for how this happens. Evolutionary biology has only been studied for about 150 years and there must be a lot left to learn. The truth is we do not need to find holes in scientific knowledge to reveal God’s work. Science itself will provide this evidence.

Before we ended the discussion we went onto the whole idea of life as information. This can be a difficult idea to grasp and I will admit that, as a computer programmer, I have a bit of an advantage here. Sometimes I sit next to the people using the computer system I look after. They are entering data onto a screen much as they would fill in a paper form. To them the form they are entering the invoice data into has an almost physical form. But I know that what they see is actually constructed from written lines of code. These are broken down by the operating system (I am simplifying a lot here but you get the idea) into machine code which is ones and zeros and this is then used to display the screen the users see. So, the whole system barely has any physical form at all, it is almost all information.  But a single cell within the human body makes my computer system look like an abacus:

Each cell has, curled up within it, about 2 metres of DNA with 7 billon bits of information. The information in the DNA is used to create proteins, the simplest of which have about 100 amino acids. Each protein must be perfect and precise otherwise our bodies will not work properly and all of this is happening every moment of every day without us even being aware of it. Although DNA itself seems to stay the same the information it expresses does not as bits of it can be turned off and on.

This is all wonderful but the question that no-one can answer is ‘How did life start?’ Lennox makes a good case that the only way life could have started is by an ‘Input of information’, that something (or someone) must have got it started. Dawkins himself makes a good case for this when he says:

It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn’t work. You don’t need to be a mathematician or physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck.

Before I finish this post I’m going to go back to Jesus and His friends sitting under the desert stars. We have become used to the idea that the natural and supernatural are separate, that stuff happening in the world around us is caused by one or the other but not both. But the ancient Jews did not see things that way. For them, there was no dividing line. I think we need to recapture that, to see everything as God’s work. I love science. I love what it tells me about the world we live in but it is all God’s world.

 

 

Love Wins – Rob Bell

Love Wins BookDeciding to blog on ‘Love Wins’ was easy. Deciding what to say about it was a lot harder. My process for blogging is this. I generally choose a book I’ve already read. I then read it again quite carefully and place little coloured stickies at the points I think are interesting and quotable. At this stage I usually have about 8 or 9 bits of coloured paper sticking out the side of the book. But, as you can see, I kept on marking the book and in the end sort of gave up. Every page seemed to have something important and interesting to say.

Having said that, I need to mention what is not in the book. It caused a bit of a stir. Rob Bell was accused of being a heretic and a false teacher. In the end he had to leave the church he had founded and move to California. He was also accused of being ‘politically liberal’ and a ‘universalist’. This side of the Atlantic being politically liberal could be seen as a compliment (certainly in our family) but being a ‘universalist’ will need to be explained.

In my post on ‘A New Kind of Christianity’ I looked at the orthodox Christian view of where people end up after they die. To recap: If you believe in Jesus then you will be saved by him and go to Heaven. Otherwise you go to Hell. It is not altogether clear what Hell is but it is very unpleasant and goes on forever. Rob Bell tackles this head on with the example of a 15 year old boy who died an atheist. In the orthodox Christian message he goes to Hell. That’s it. Some people believe there is an ‘age of accountability’ that is around the time a child is twelve years old. Bell says:

This belief raises a number of issues, one of them being the risk each new life faces. If every baby being born could grow up to not believe the right things and go to hell forever, then prematurely terminating a child’s life would actually be the loving thing to do, guaranteeing that the child ends up in Heaven, and not in hell, forever. Why run the risk?

And that risk raises another question about this high-school student’s death. What happens when a fifteen-year-old atheist dies? Was there a three-year window when he could have made a decision to change his eternal destiny? Did he miss his chance? What if he had lived to sixteen, and it was in that sixteenth year that he came to believe what he was supposed to believe? Was God limited to that three-year window, and if the message didn’t get to the young man in that time, well that’s just unfortunate?

When I read this book again, I can see why it made people angry. It starts with a blistering list of questions, tearing apart the traditional idea of who will get to heaven and who won’t. If that was at the base of my faith, I would be angry too.

But one of the main reasons for our understanding of Hell may simply be a misunderstanding of the original Greek text. Right at the end Matthew Chapter 25: 42-46 Jesus says this:

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.

They will also answer, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (New International Version)

Now how I, and I would guess you too, read the phrase ‘eternal punishment’ is some terrible painful punishment going on and on forever without even death to end it, because you are already dead. OK. Except it seems that is not what Matthew meant at all. Bell says:

…the story Jesus tells in Matthew 25 about sheep and goats being judged and separated. The sheep are sent to one place, while the goats go to another place because of their failure to see Jesus in the hungry and thirsty and naked.

The goats are sent, in the Greek language, to an aion of kolazo. Aion, we know, has several meanings. One is “age” or “period of time”; another refers to intensity of experience. The word kolazo is a term from horticulture. It refers to the pruning and trimming of the branches of a plant so it can flourish.

An aion of kolazo. Depending on how you translate aion and kolazo, then, the phrase can mean “a period of pruning” or a “time of trimming”, or an intense experience of correction.

Which makes perfect sense. Because people who are unkind, selfish or even cruel will never be able to flourish in the Kingdom of God. They will first need to change. It also makes sense because this is what God is like. Not a soft pushover, but always giving people a second chance. Another thing strikes me about this story: The ‘sheep’ who ‘receive their inheritance’ are not defined as ‘those who believe in Jesus’ but those who are kind and generous. It is clear from the story that they may not even realise they are doing these things for Jesus at all.

At the start of this post I promised I would explain what Universalism is. It is this: that everyone, of every faith; however sinful they are, can eventually be reconciled to God. I honestly think that it will always be harder for those who don’t accept the grace and forgiveness that Jesus offers, but the gate is open. There will always be second chances.

But what Jesus did was a whole lot more than that. Bell says:

Jesus, for these first Christians, was the ultimate exposing of what God has been up to all along.

Unity.
To all things.
God is putting the world back together,
and God is doing this through
Jesus.
 
 
He holds the entire universe in his embrace.
He is within and without time.
He is the flesh-and-blood exposure of an eternal reality.
He is the sacred power present in every dimension of creation.

Which is mind blowing but also a bit hard to grasp. So, I created a couple of pictures using my Three Worlds framework to try and explain this.

The leaves in this picture represent the physical world we live in. The people walking represent us and also the social world of friends, family and even enemies. The stained glass window represents God and His Kingdom. Before Jesus came this was the picture. There were ways of reaching God: through sacrifices, priests and a few prophets. But you had to be the right person at the right time in the right place. God was in charge, but, for most people, most of the time he was a long way off.

Broken world

We start our year counting at Jesus’ birth, but this is wrong. The first day is the Sunday when the two Marys find the empty tomb. From then on nothing is the same. God’s world and our world are knitted together. Everyone who believes in Jesus can live in both at the same time, can be a child of the world and a child of God. On that first morning everything had changed.

Healed world

Love Wins.

Pilgrimage Story

Day 1

Millenium Stones

The pilgrimage started in mist. Yet for me it felt as though the mist had lifted. All the fears and moods I had experienced for the last few weeks lifted and I felt a lightness of spirit that continued for the whole of the 5 days. As we gathered in the car park at the top of Reigate Hill I really felt I was setting out on a journey.

My memories of that first day are of abundance and space. Our first stop was at these rather mysterious ‘Millenium Stones’. Each one had an inscription from the last two thousand years. Starting with the first few verses of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

It is the beginning of an extraordinary passage which links words with actions and God with the reality of the physical world. In the rhythm of the steps we took; In the ups and downs of the North Downs, we all experienced a bit of that reality.

Sheep and Goats

This is some of us on the first day near the stones. The sheep and goats were very friendly and interested in us, especially our packed lunches! As we walked along the mist lifted and we had amazing views over the countryside and then sometimes we were in woods, quite closed in. I remember especially fields of wild garlic under the trees with their great glossy green leaves. We also saw our first bluebells that day, but just a smattering, not the carpets we saw later. And there was an abundance of conversation. One of the people walking with us that day was a young man about to train as a priest. I was really interested in how he had come to that decision. It seemed that other people had recognised this in him before he had in himself and had told him so. And I walked with a lady swimming teacher and we talked about how kids did and didn’t learn to swim. On that first day I didn’t feel a need for silence, that came later.

After almost 20 miles of walking we came to a strange sort of wood. A number of large bushy pine trees had come down across the path. We couldn’t tell if they had been felled or just fallen. It seemed at first as though it would be impossible to get through them but there proved to be a way round or over all of them, all of us felt this to be symbolic in one way or another.  Then we came out of the wood and had sight of Chevening  House. It looked much like any other large country house, only the tall metal fence around it showed it to be a government residence.

Chevening Altar

As it grew dark we came to Chevening village. I knew we were going to stop at the church but I hadn’t expected such a warm welcome: Coffee and cake and a wonderful lecture on the history of the church. The image I cannot get out of my head is of coming into the warmly lit church through a curtain. We were tired and dirty but made so welcome. On the altar was this wonderful carving of the last supper.

 Day 2

The second day seemed harder. For many people in our group it was a lot harder. Blisters and knee problems set in. I was lucky that I had had time to prepare and get my knees strong enough but I know that some people in our group were really struggling on that second day. It was on this second day that the walk began to feel more like a pilgrimage.

Pilgrims WayIt had rained heavily in the night and the clouds were still over the downs. There were quite a lot of small steep, slippery paths and, although we still had some amazing views we had to concentrate on the footing.

Then, quite suddenly, we came out on a large clear space high over the valley. The land around belonged to a Christian training centre and they had put a large wooden cross at the edge of this space to act as an open air worship centre. As I looked at the cross I seemed to see another cross on another windy hilltop long ago, as the sky went dark:

Cross

Walking in woodsAs we talked together many people said ‘Oh, but the walking’s not the important thing’. But for me it was a sort of calming rhythm that forced me to exist at a slower pace. I had wondered what it would be like to be without the pressures of working with computers and, that afternoon, I started to find out.  I dropped behind and just enjoyed the beauty of the woods ‘A cathedral of treeness’. Each kind of tree had its own special way of growing and existing. At the end of that day, coming into Rochester we walked through a long wood full of elegant beech trees that made different shapes as we walked.

Ladybird and nettlesEvery now and then I would look down and see the spring growth at the side of the path. I caught this ladybird sitting on a bed of nettles.

 

 

 

 

Day 3

Day 3 did not start well for me. We had arranged to attend morning prayer and communion at Rochester cathedral. I was not raised in a Christian family and our own church is fairly informal so the complexity of these services was baffling. I couldn’t understand why we had to pause in the middle of sentences (and for how long?). The Dean was wearing a beautiful robe but it made the service like a theatrical performance. That, and not being able to follow the short service in the various books we were given, I felt I was just looking on as an outsider, not involved at all.

Then at (a very good) breakfast in the church café it was suggested that we should all walk together at a slower pace. I had really enjoyed the fast pace and long walks of the last two days so this didn’t seem like a good idea at all in my current state of mind.

At this point I should explain something: Each one of us had been given a ‘Prayer partner’. This was someone who was not walking with us but was supporting us through prayer and other means. Vanessa and I sent texts to each other and she had also prepared a little card for each day with a thought and a bible verse. I had a daily shock as she hit the nail on the head with amazing accuracy. Her thought for day 3 was:

You have an inner strength and I know you can help encourage others. Keep going, this may be the hardest day but you can do it.

Sometimes we just need to be told! The walk was a lot shorter that day.

StepsBut we had a lot of steps, endlessly up and down, and it was the only rainy day. I hope I was encouraging to those around us. I’ll remember it as a day of conversations: A conversation, walking through the rain, about God and Science (two great passions of my life) and how they each made the other come alive; A conversation over coffee in a pub about our lives when we were younger; A conversation about answers to prayer and, near the end of the walk: a conversation about these very strange flowers growing under some Yew trees:

Strange Flowers

 Day 4

Vanessa’s text for the day was Matthew 11:28:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Lean the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Message translation)

Pilgrim's Way

And so it was. It was a day of fast walking on easy tracks but the sense of lightness and rhythm increased. We had a singer with us and she tried to get us all singing. The problem was we couldn’t remember the words. We were walking mostly on the original pilgrims way and I had a sense of all the thousands and thousands of feet that had been before us. What were they hoping for? Healing of their bodies or souls? Resolution or forgiveness? As I walked along in the spring sunshine I imagined Jesus walking beside me, keeping step. Not the western vision of Jesus: tall and delicate, but a short swarthy chap with dark skin and a hooked nose, in a rather grubby linen robe. In the evening I drew this picture of the both of us walking together:

Walking with Jesus
At lunchtime we were joined by a few others, including our Vicar, Phil. There was the option of driving a few miles and doing a shorter walk or walking another 11 miles that afternoon. I was quite keen to do the longer walk and in the end there were just 3 of us doing the whole 11 miles. One of our youth ministers, Wendy, was with us and she extracted all sorts of information from me and Hazel: How we met our husbands, how we ended up in our professions. When we finally came into Chilham we were certainly ready for a drink and a rest but it was a good afternoon.

 Day 5

Pilgrims

The final day was just as I had imagined it: Lots of people walking together, sunshine and fluffy clouds. With only 7 miles to walk it was like a holiday. We passed through lots of apple orchards with blossom on the trees. With everyone walking at different speeds there were lots of stops and conversations. I had lived for two years in north west Canterbury so the countryside became more and more familiar to me.

BlossomIt seemed like a different person who had walked through the chestnut woods 26 years ago and in a way it was. It was before marriage, children, Jesus and a whole career in computing. In spite of this it was good to be back. As is so often the case, it was all smaller, brighter and really quite pretty compared with all those years ago.

And then, finally we were at the cathedral. And what happened there, and what happened next will be in the next post.

 

Miracles – C. S Lewis and How God Changes Your Brain – Andew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman

For me the brain is a mystery. Ever since I was a teenager I wanted to know about this strange jumble of nerves and chemicals, electrical impulses and blood that somehow results in what we think, who we are, what we decide. Twenty years later I became a Christian and the mystery deepened. Where did God fit into all of this? Were my vivid experiences of God a part of me or a part of something else?

In very different ways these two books attempt to address this issue. I have to admit I was quite excited about reading ‘How God changes your brain’. Opening up the brown package I expected to get real answers to my questions. And, in a way I did. It explains in detail the way that spiritual practice changes the function and structure of the brain. That faith, and the practice of faith calms the primitive side of us and turns up the more altruistic, empathic side. It explains that prayer and meditation can cause us to become not only less selfish but to loose our sense of self altogether. Heady stuff. Or not. Because at the core of this book is an evasion. I find it incredible that two people can spend years researching the subject of God and still not recognise His reality. Towards the end of the book Andrew Newberg says the following:

‘For those who embark on a spiritual journey, God becomes a metaphor reflecting their personal search for truth. It is a journey towards self-awareness, salvation or enlightenment, and for those who are touched by this mystical experience, life becomes more meaningful and rich.’

And for those of you who are thinking: ‘This must really mean something profound but I just don’t get it’, don’t worry it really is meaningless. Newberg and Waldman are clinging onto the Naturalistic world view for all they are worth, almost hanging on by their fingernails. Also, it is profoundly patronising for people of faith. The suggestion, which is repeated throughout the book, is that God is not actually real.  On the final page of chapter 11 (Miracles pp150) C. S. Lewis describes the dillemma:

‘It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. ‘Look out!’ we cry, ‘it’s alive’. And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back – I would have done so myself if I could – and proceed no further with Christianity. An ‘impersonal God’ – well and good. A subjective God of beauty truth and goodness, inside our own heads – better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power we can tap- best of all. But God himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at infinite speed, the hunter, King, husband- that is quite another matter… There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God!’) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?’

And yet HGCYB is a book with a great deal of useful information. Much of the focus of it on the practice of meditation, and how this can improve our emotional and mental health. This is an area the mainstream church has ignored. I think there is a certain fear that we may stray into Eastern or even ‘New Age’ practices. This could be the case if the focus of our meditation is internal (as with Buddist meditation)  but if we focus on God, to look outside ourselves to the divine, we will not fall into this trap. Another argument against using meditation as part of spiritual practice is that it is not mentioned by Jesus in the Gospels. This is true, but the reason for this could well be that He didn’t need to. I did a quick search of the Old testament for the words Meditate and Meditation. They came up 18 times in the Psalms alone. I like this one:

‘Within your temple, O God,
we meditate on your unfailing love.’ – Psalm 48 v 9

This, and the other verses, were something all his audience knew. Only we have forgotten.

So, how does this work? Well, about a year ago I started to pray using a form called the ‘Jesus Prayer’. As this involves actions as well as words I’ve tried to draw it below:

Jesus Prayer

The words are: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God. Have mercy on me, a sinner’. This is a very old prayer, from the 4th or 5th Century. The prayer is silent. The up stroke in the picture represents a breath in (try to breathe from your stomach, like a singer) and the down stroke a breath out. The traditional way to use this prayer is to find a quiet place, a relaxed position (I like to lie down but there is a danger of falling asleep) and say this prayer between 10 and 20 times. This may be quite difficult at first but it is worth persevering. As you continue you will find any worries fading and the barriers between yourself and God falling away. After a while God will become clearer and He will start to communicate. This may be a feeling of peace, or a great inrush of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I am prompted to pray quite simply for people I know who are in need.

I taught this prayer to our bible study group and about two thirds of them began to practice it. One couple, who were suffering from  health problems prayed it to help them relax enough to sleep. Another lady decided she didn’t like the words and used the same breathing technique, but on the words of the Lords Prayer. I have used it in all sorts of stressful situations, even in the middle of meetings. It doesn’t always solve the problems, but I feel so calm it doesn’t matter!

C. S. Lewis takes the role of the brain in relation to God and takes a completely different tack. HGCYB sees God as a product of the Brain. Lewis sees the brain as an spearhead or incursion of the supernatural into the natural world. The argument goes something like this:

  • The ability to reason is completely unlike the rest of the natural world.
  • Also the notion of right and wrong (even when it does not benefit the individual concerned) is so strong in Human Beings.
  • Therefore it must come from outside the natural world.
  • Therefore there must be a super nature outside of nature that has created this ability.

He says:

Human minds, then are not the only supernatural entities that exist. They do not come from nowhere. Each has come into Nature from Supernature: each has its tap-root in an eternal, self-existent, rational Being, whom we call God. Each is an offshoot, or spearhead, or incursion of that Supernatural reality into Nature.

I’ve tried to illustrate this below. On this 2D picture I’ve shown God on one side and Nature on the other with the two meeting within the Human mind. But it is more like a mingling or layering. Lewis talks of another dimension. I think it would be more accurate to talk of another sense. For a number of years I lost my sense of smell. I can well remember the day it came back. Just the smell of bacon was like a whole extra layer of reality in the world. Experiencing God is like that only bigger; a whole extra sense of reality.

brain2

Before we move on to more of Lewis’ ideas about Nature and God I think it is worth pointing out that this is not a particularly easy book to read. This is not because of the language or style (which, as you can see from the extracts is rather elegant) but because of the time in which it was written. Like most books of Christian thinking it is arguing against the prevailing thinking of its day.

But ‘Miracles’ was published in 1947. This is before the theory of the Big Bang, before Global Warming (well it was happening but no-one realised it), before chaos theory or butterflies flapping their wings in China. The universe seemed a very safe predictable place. David Hume could argue without a trace of irony that miracles could not happen because it was simply so unlikely that nature could be any different tomorrow from what it was today; so improbable, that it was impossible to believe. And Lewis needed to have a counter argument to this.

But the chapter ‘On Probability’ is the last one that the reader will need to make allowances for. From then on Lewis launches into a glorious and completely unapologetic exploration of the Miracles of the New Testament. Starting with the primary miracle of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Today, even Christians don’t like to examine miracles too closely. I have tried to lead discussions on the physical nature of miracles and been constantly deflected into their emotional and religious significance. But Lewis meets this challenge head on. He describes miracles as being like God reaching down directly into the world. Our God is the creator, the god of nature as well as supernature. So every birth is His work, but through the medium of the biological process. In the conception of Jesus he dispensed with the mechanism of biology and reached directly into the womb of a young Jewish girl at her prayers. Following on from his argument that each one of us has a ‘tap root’ of God within us he says:

We cannot conceive how the Divine Spirit dwelled within the created and human spirit of Jesus but neither can we conceive how His human spirit, or that of any man, dwells within his natural organism. What we can understand, if the Christian doctrine is true, is that our own composite existence is not the sheer anomaly it might seem to be, but a faint image of he Divine Incarnation itself – the same theme but in a very minor key.

So, in all miracles there is a fusion of the natural and supernatural. And in this way they are physical prophecies, precursors of a ‘New Nature’. ‘There will be no room to get the finest razor blade of thought between Sprit and Nature’ says Lewis. I think we see this at work in the Gospels many times. In the feeding of the five thousand;

“Bring them here to me,” He said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to Heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. – Matthew 14: 18-19

At some point during the bread and fishes acquired a new spiritual reality. They were still loaves, still fishes, still could be eaten and digested, yet Heaven had entered that bread at that moment of giving thanks. I wonder what it felt like to eat that bread? Were those people changed by it?

But there is one thing I need to disagree with Lewis on. In many places he says that this fusion of God’s Spirit and Nature happened at one time in history. Even reading the bible this is clearly not true. There are many instances of this happening in Acts. But does this still happen today?

The answer is ‘Of Course it does’. Even among the Christians I know I can think of many instances. It is almost commonplace. But, as this is a blog rather than an academic discourse I’m going to describe something that happened to me last spring:

At the beginning of 2012 I found myself in a difficult place. I felt I was stalled in many areas of my life. My work was not going well, I seemed to be sleepwalking through both my Church and home life. During this time I had a vivid picture in my mind of being in a dark wood, surrounded by brambles and thorns. Gradually, as the days grew longer, the picture changed and I seemed to be coming to the edge of this wood. Through the brambles I could see a bright green hillside. Then the changes to the picture in my mind stalled. I was standing on the edge of the beautiful hillside; there was nothing stopping me from walking forward but I couldn’t and I could still see the brambles and thorns on the edge of my vision.

Then I became aware of God asking me to make a journey. Now this happens from time to time. The journeys are not usually very long, sometimes just to the other side of the room. The furthest I’ve ever been asked to go is Oxford (about 40 miles away). In this case it was to climb to the top of the hill near our house. Now this was not an unreasonable or difficult request but, for a few weeks, I kept on putting it off. Finally, I put on my walking boots (It’s quite a steep climb), packed my paints, and walked out of the house and up the hill.

Hillside

As I reached the top I began to realise that the landscape was actually the picture in my mind. To my right was the wood, full of brambles and thorns. To my left was a bright green hillside with wild flowers and little bushes in the distance. I sat on a bench and painted the picture you can see here. Then I packed away my paints and walked forward away from the dark wood.

It was at this point that the extraordinary thing happened. The ground under my feet seemed to have two distinct realities. It was still physical ground but it also had a spiritual reality that was hovering slightly above the solid ground. This spiritual ground was slightly luminous and even brighter than the grass in the spring sunshine. I wish now that I had been paying more attention. What was I actually walking on? If this had been water rather than ground could I have walked on it, like Peter and Jesus? I don’t know. Because what I was most aware of was a tremendous sense of peace and joy. The walk across that hillside was also a walk away from the brambles and thorns into a more positive future. I felt physically very strong and light, as though it took no effort at all to make that walk.

For someone like myself, with a scientific education, such an experience raises more questions than it answers. But I know it was not a dream or an illusion. If anything, it was more real than my everyday existence and has had a profound and lasting effect on my life. But I am going to leave the last word to Lewis:

But Christian teaching, by saying that God made the world and called it good, teaches that Nature or environment cannot be simply irrelevant to spiritual beatitude in general… By teaching the resurrection of the body it teaches that Heaven is not merely a state of the spirit but a state of the body as well: and therefore a state of Nature as a whole. Christ, it is true, told His hearers that the kingdom of Heaven was ‘within’ or ‘among’ them. But his hearers were not merely in ‘a state of mind’. The planet He had created was beneath their feet, His sun above their heads; blood and lungs and guts were working in the bodies He had invented, photons and sound waves of His devising were blessing them with the sight of His human face and sound of His voice… From this factor of environment Christianity does not teach us to desire a total release. We desire, like St Paul, not to be un-clothed but to be re-clothed: to find not the formless Everywhere-and-Nowhere but the promised land, that Nature which will be always and perfectly- as present Nature is partially and intermittently – the instrument for that that music which will then arise between Christ and us.