Editorial by Anthony Freeman
from Modern Believing Vol 56:3 - July 2015
This issue consists largely of contributions to the 2014 Modern Church annual conference on the topic of Exploring Spirituality for the 21st Century.
Martyn Percy gave the chairman's keynote address on 'Generous Liberalism: A Search for our Spiritual Soul' and set the standard for what was by common consent one of the best conferences of recent years. His focus on the importance of parable in connecting with Christian faith opened a seam that was also mined by other speakers, notably Mark Oakley in his plea for a more poetic faith that would open up and invite engagement rather than explain everything and close down exploration. Emma Percy took one particular biblical 'parable' or metaphor—breastfeeding as an image of grace-filled service—and traced its historical variety and contemporary value.
Dave Bookless's discussion of 'Worldly Spirituality' challenged the polarity between the dark forces of all-consuming anthropocentricism and eco-warriors in shining armour. What we need instead is a theocentrism that acknowledges creation as being neither for humans nor for nature but for God. This requires a spirituality that takes seriously St John's declaration that God so loved the world (including but not exclusively the human world) that he sent his only Son.
Being Modern Church, the sociologists were not to be left out. Grace Davie spoke about the shift in the 'centre' of religion in Britain in the two decades since she published Religion in Britain since 1945 (Blackwell, 1994) and the continuing aptness of her phrase 'believing without belonging' to describe the many who consciously place themselves beyond religious or spiritual commitment, but who continue to believe (albeit in unorthodox ways). Copyright considerations prevent us from printing Professor Davie's talk, but we hope to publish a review of her recent work in a future issue of Modern Believing. Another sociological perspective was given by Abby Day in her fascinating account of the spirituality of the older laywomen ('Generation A') whose unassuming commitment holds together many a church community.
Finally the crucial place of silence in contemporary spirituality was highlighted in presentations on Mindfulness by John Peacocke (summarized here with observations by Tim Stead) and on the Quaker perspective by Abby Day.