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Issue 27

Article by Rt Revd Gordon Mursell

Abiding in Christ

By the Rt. Revd Gordon Mursell (Patron of the FCP)      

One of the richest themes in the Gospel of John is that of abiding: the Greek word menein, which occurs about 40 times in the Gospel and letters of John, is translated in different ways in modern versions; but the King James Version, which is often closest to the original, almost invariably translates it as \"abide\", which makes it easier to see where and how often it occurs. Probably the most famous example occurs in chapter 14. One of the apostles, Judas or Jude (beautifully described as \"not Iscariot\" - imagine having to go through life trying to make it clear that you weren\' t the one who betrayed the Lord!) asks Jesus, \"Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?\" (John 14:22). It\'s a good question, for behind it lies a deeper one: what is the point of the Church? Why did Jesus not simply reveal himself directly to the world, and not bother with a Church which has, so often throughout history, proved unworthy of its Lord? 

Jesus\' answer is famous: \"Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home (menein) with them.. .\" (14:23). 

In effect, Jesus is saying to St Jude that the point - in a sense the only point - of the Church is to be an abiding community: that is, a community of unconditional love where Jesus and the Father can abide and feel at home. 

But what does that mean in practice? The idea of abiding carries with it the sense of living at depth with someone or some people, a willingness to commit for the long haul, and not simply give up when the going gets tough. In that sense it is profoundly counter-cultural in a short-term consumerist society like ours, because it is intensely costly: it demands that we make space for the other, whoever that \"other\" might be. In an increasingly crowded world, making space for others is itself becoming rarer. Borders are closing against asylum seekers and economic migrants, and politicians use the rhetoric of space (\"we simply haven\'t got enough room\") to justify this, regardless of the fact that during the years of Empire the British had no hesitation in occupying other people\'s space in countries across the world. As I write, the Middle East is suffering from the refusal of many different groups to make space for those who are not like them - of Zionists in Israel to share their land with Palestinians, of extremist Islamists to share anything with those of other faiths, and of many others too. 

In such a context, there is something even more important about the willingness to make space for an Other, for someone who is not us, who will make demands upon us in ways that we may not realize when we first commit ourselves. The life of prayer requires a daily, and costly choice to make space for G od in Christ; and that choice presupposes a willingness to rearrange our emotional furniture, to reconfigure our interior lives not just once but every day, so as to give space to God to abide within us. This is of course in no sense news for members of the Fellowship of Contemplative Prayer, who know from long experience of the life of prayer both how demanding and how infinitely rewarding is this mutual abiding of ourselves in Christ, and of Christ in us. But it may be important to remember that this mutual abiding is so much more than the progressive deepening of our own personal relati onships with God. It is a prophetic sign to a world, and a society, where the ever-increasing temptation is to live a life focussed on self. The Church exists to be a community of people who are willing to make space, both for God, for one another, and for the stranger who comes among us. Only insofar as we live out this profound truth day by day do we bear witness to the God who \"pitched his tent among us\" (John 1:14), and who longs to abide in our hearts and lives today. The fourth century spiritual writer St Gregory of Nyssa argued that the advance of one soul brings grace and ble ssing to others and the indwelling, or abiding, of God in the individual affects the whole Body - and the whole world too.

\"Utterly at home, He lives in us for ever\"

Julian of Norwich