We are often more fortunate in this country than we realise. Matters of faith, religion, even the lack of any philosophy is governed not by law but protected by it.
It is a fact that the UK government desire no control nor influence over that which it designates as a matter of conscience.
Christian Spiritualism as a denomination of the Christian faith should, in theory at least, have those same legal defences and recourses, but when we look at popular culture, mass media shows mostly mockery, disdain, and ridicule. Because of this, it is a popular misconception that we are not a faith group at all, or worse, we are too small and insignificant, too off the wall to give any thought.
I in no way claim my faith is alone in this lack of robust protection; here, I can only speak plainly of my own, but I know that we are not alone, simply a paradigm of more significant threats to religious freedoms. It is deemed just and righteous by the right of freedom of thought and speech to describe us as charlatans, abusers of the vulnerable, demonic worshippers and entertainers. Once I even heard Spiritualism described as the ill-thought-out and contradictory phrase ‘Non-evidenced based theological grouping’.
One might hope to find solace, comfort, or support amongst those of faith, yet painfully I confess this is still not so. Driven by the focus of difference, rather than the emphasis of the familiar, the error again is compounded. The individuality that was gifted to us all by God itself, making us unique, is crushed under a yolk of cultural determination, gender, sexual preference and difference solely based on human interpretation of divine providence.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I received scorn for expressing caution and concern that the new attitude of kindness and unity we experienced when our regular life was made empty by the changes we faced may only be a temporary phase.
At first, this void of normalcy filled with hope, confidence, and love, all too soon to be replaced with hatred, frustration, and suffering. We must recognise and remember that the initial hand of kindness did not reach out to every heart, despite what was publicly first perceived. The hopes we shared for a newer, more prosperous life became drowned and mired in mistrust and the sins of the past, renewed in a symphony of silence, as profound as when the whale swallowed Jonah.
The pandemic has had a lasting impact on so many lives, both directly via loss to the pandemic itself, and indirectly, by those who lost loved ones during it, but not from the virus. I lost my father to ill health in January 2021, and because it was not virus related, we were able to see him for a few hours before he passed. But, he had been hospitalised for five days before this, that last we saw him was when he left the family home, convinced he would return.
Two days later, he fell unconscious and never woke up again for the remainder of his time there. We got to say goodbye, but because of the pandemic, he was alone, if not for the wonderful team in Addenbrookes Hospital, he would have been completely alone, for most of that time. I and my family, are just a teardrop in an ocean of missed goodbyes in this world.
Many people have turned more to faith for comfort this last year, I would have been lost myself without mine. But what real hope do we offer those who come to us for a better world, if we continue to focus on what does not matter, rather than what does?
For too long, we have allowed the failings of the past to submerge and hinder the potential purpose and the enduring hope that faith can provide. When we are united, and at our best, we are the hand of the heavenly hosts themselves, but when we are at our worst, we are as much the problem as we could potentially be the solution.
In the past years, religious faiths and groups of a theological and philosophical nature have begun working together, communicating as never before. Still, again, this wondrous gift did not reach out to all hearts. Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast!
It is easy to speak of unity and togetherness, to preach coming together when thousands or millions will listen. The more important task is to listen to those who do not have such a platform, only by listening and supporting them, transforming those promises and declarations into deed. Even the smallest voice is crucial under the family of humanity.
Unless our efforts for change and unity are genuine, consciously struggled for, unless grand gestures are transformed from platitudes to win favour into a force for good to change the world, they are meaningless.
In other words, just as with prayers said by rote with little real thought for the meaning, without doing something about unity and change, words are a gesture as empty and hollow as the desiccated husk of a beetle long dead in an arid wasteland. We all know; if we continue with empty promises, we shall also become that empty carapace forgotten in the sands of lost opportunities.
We stand at the dawn of another shift in attitude. We must all unite to bring aid, and the songs of the choirs of all our respective immortal realms, into the light of day and carry each other forward with them.
We have a chance, here, now, in this time, to make a real difference to that which we leave our inheritors, to look upon the hopes of those that will follow with unconditional resolve, that they may look back to us with respect and kindliness.
Even if only one soul in seven billion remains in solitude and despair, there is no victory.
It is to fail the nature of our service to those that we have sworn by holy vow to uphold. We are responsible for maintaining the names, the faces, the teachings of our faiths. We have, thus far, failed. A failing, we can ill afford to ignore or nurture and pass off as a consequence of causality.
We must do better.
To that end, I call all people of spiritual conscience to stand and be counted, take the countenance of our ancestry, and speak our truths and glories but listen with patience and kindliness to the realities of others.
Write, speak, post on blogs and social media. Then we must equally read the river of faithful utterances that flow from the hearts of each other. Only then will we see the miracle of creation, in the voice of the universe made manifest in those parts that reflect our heartfelt supplications and make these our focus, striving for a restoration of all that is good and noble.
That is the purest reflection of the voices of the angels singing us to a brighter tomorrow. Then we must embrace and share these similar ideas and sing of our chorus of them, for the constant worship of difference has drowned out the praise of what unites us.
Be of peaceful spirit and heart, talk, listen to one another or fail again to learn from the mistakes of our progenitors.
Our time on this Earth is short and limited; we must therefore not wait but act now, for as much as we must be agents for change in our groupings, we must also be agents for community and hope in the broader family of our earthly siblings. We must be a foundation for a ministry of reconciliation by action and deed, by example and demonstration, not by subjugation or chastisement, so that even the humblest and softly spoken amongst us do not live a life of suffering servitude.
We must ask ourselves how we are to be remembered, perceived by those who inherit the world from us; remembered as those who failed to build a more loving and united world, for all iniquity, or as the rich and fertile ashes from whence the phoenix of a newer life sprang.
We have a chance here and now to exalt and make steadfast the teachings of our respective faiths open and welcome if not in practice but understanding to all of humankind, banishing the fear and hatred formed around the word ‘religion’.
We must all remember the only ‘power’ in a ministry position is love; the sole authority is divine providence. The superior strength is in listening with patience to views we not usually accept, but then focusing only on what unites us.
The consequence of failing to change the way the world perceives faith and religion is too unthinkable to this servant. And it is our responsibility, not just to preach, but to teach, not just to lead praise, but to lead by example, not just to represent God, but to represent every living soul. Faith and religion are owned, not by any single one of us; we only keep it safe within our hearts to pass on to those who would listen and follow.
Some might say that only one or a few voices speaking their truths cannot have enough impact on the world. This statement is not valid.
If we were to remove the presence and influence of just five humans from history, humankind would irrevocably change forever; the faithful worship of 4.3 billion people of the world’s population would cease, never have been. I am painfully aware that many would say this is not a bad thing. I do not question the right to think that way, but I fail to recognise the statement’s validity.
Without faith to sustain those who believe, without hope, without the promise of a better life given by those texts known as sacred, without the guidance and wisdom of those kind hearts inspired by those holy words to raise each other from pain, this world would be a darker place. You do not need to be religious to be a good person but to be of true faith, you need to be a good person.
The legacy of those five beings, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Muhammad, and Jesus, despite those who would use their influence for personal gain, to harm, is still one of peace, hope, and faith for sixty per cent of the worlds true faithful.
So, can we make a difference? The lesson of those five sacred beings demonstrates a decisive yes.
We can all build a better world for ourselves, each other, for the future. If we are to succeed, we must embrace each other as equals, encourage and celebrate those parts of our faiths that teach us we are all the children of God, united in praise of unconditional love.
We must carry that message, that lesson, that dream, in our hearts. Never to judge, never to condemn, never to silence the plans of God within the hearts of his children. Do we pass on the good graces of our conscience, or carry forward the burden of our failures to the next generation, repeatedly?
Do we condemn ourselves to silent oblivion? Today and every day, we must make a conscious and straightforward choice to accept the truth that the voice of God speaks within us all, using many languages, expressed through many cultural determinations, and revealing itself in its eternal glory, through many faces.
There but for the Grace of God go we.
The Most Rev’d Nick Brown,
Supporting Archbishop to the First Minister, The New Christian Spiritualists’ Society.