January 2019

January 2019

“All will be thrown down … the birth-pangs of the new age begin … who endures to the end will be saved”

Mark 13. 2, 8 and 13 (NEB and RSV)

“One thing at least we no longer need to be told is that we are in the throes of a crisis of the most appalling dimensions. We tend to call this crisis the ecological crisis, and this is a fair description in so far as its effects are manifest above all in the ecological sphere. For here the message is quite clear: our entire way of life is humanly and environmentally suicidal, and unless we change it radically there is no way in which we can avoid cosmic catastrophe. Without such change the whole adventure of civilization will come to an end during the lifetime of many now living.”

With those words, the Orthodox philosopher and theologian, Philip Sherrard, began his book Human Image . . . World Image published in 1992. Nearly 40 years previously, Robert Coulson (founder of the Fellowship) was writing about the inevitable collapse of what he called the first Christian civilization. Like previous civilizations, ours has borne what fruits it can and, like ripened fruit in autumn, it must fall and decay (see Into God pp. 15-19: the theme is taken up again and developed in his later writings).

Both authors know that the cause of this collapse, whether it is to be apocalyptic or not, is the direct result of a loss of contact with the Divine. But it is Coulson who sees more clearly that the collapse is to be interpreted in terms of the Gospel as “the birth-pangs of the new age.” And in his view, it is contemplatives, focussed on God, who sow the seed for the new spiritual growth which will surely emerge following the collapse of the old order.

As well as its warning which is so relevant to us today, this Saying has a personal dimension. There can be a ‘throwing down’, a downfall, in anyone’s life. Contemplative listening to this Divine Word will help us to understand such setbacks, not as unmitigated and tragic loss, but as ‘birth pangs’ whose pain will actually prepare us for a new vision of God’s purposes for us. An apt Word, then, for the start of this year which will doubtless see great changes in our country and in the world.

Note: this commentary first appeared in January 2002. It has been very slightly amended for the year 2019. For a time of contemplation, perhaps take just one part of the whole.