Reuniting the divided life
When I was little I used to watch the TV adaptation of Wurzel Gummidge starring Jon Pertwee. For those who don't know, Wurzel was a scarecrow. Wurzel used to have a different head to put on depending on the circumstances. He had a thinking head, a counting head and a brave head. Like many of us, Wurzel's life was compartmentalised.
We all too easily have a "work head" or a "home head" or a "hanging around with my mates head". That is to say we have managed to separate out parts of our lives and done our best not to have them meet too often (especially when that might prove embarassing).
And I think we Christians have all too easily bought into a much bigger, and far more serious, separation; one that has been with us only since the days what historians call "The Enlightenment." The separation I am talking about is that between "real life" (science, facts, maths, school, work and so on) and "spiritual life" (church, praying, and so on). I have even heard people say that what is spoken about in the Bible is good in an ideal world (spiritual, fluffy and nice) but doesn't work in the "real world" (solid, factual, and tough). And we do it in subtle ways as well. For example, when we pray; do we tend to think that we need to get into a certain posture, frame of mind, spirituality, before we can actually pray? Is it not often the case that we pray from a position of how we think God wants us to be rather than how we are?
And what about witness? Don't we often feel as though we are imposing on others if we seek to share our faith? And is that not a product of the view that religion belongs in the private realm and not in the "real world" of hard facts and science etc.?
I say all this because I have been re-reading Kyle Strobel's great book on the spiritual practices of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and I had got to the stage where he discusses what was then referred to as "soliloquoy" or "talking to yourself." And, no, he is not referring to the fist sign of madness. Rather it was a talking back to your soul so as to instil God's truth into your heart by grace. And here was the thing I had never really noticed before: The psalmists practiced soliloquoy. They "preach to their own souls in the presence of God." (Strobel, "Formed for the Glory of God", 115). Take a look for example at Psalm 42 and 43. What happens is that the psalmist seeks to apply the promise of God to himself whilst he is in the midst of troubling feelings.
This is fascinating and enriching. And it is so for two reasons. First off we see that for the psalmist the experience of his life, as it is there and then, is something he feels able to bring before God. He does not wait to get into an appropriately spiritual frame of mind. That is what makes Christianity so much more real than the kinds of spirituality that tell you to empty yourself before you come to the divine. Here we see us being able to come to God as we are.
But the more significant lesson for me is that there is no distinction in the psalmist's mind between the life lived in direct communication with God and the hard facts of real life. Both are done within the realisation of the active presence of God. He can speak to himself with God as part of the conversation. He would, I think, be baffled by the idea that there is somehow a way of compartmentalising our world or our day to day lives. God is present to him in all circumstances because his God, and ours, is the God of the universe and not just of some separated spiritual realm. I like the famous quote of Abraham Kuyper who said that there is not one part of this world over which God in Christ Jesus does not say, "Mine." The so-called "real world" is the world that God created. Isn't it just possible, therefore, that his word connects with it better than anything we can say or do? So maybe it is time we retired our Wurzel Gummidge heads and started to re-unite that which should never have been divided?