Last night I attended a public lecture at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The event was free and it was lovely to be back in this beautiful building again. The lecture was part of a series entitled The Case for God and the particular speaker last night was the writer and former Roman Catholic nun, Karen Armstrong. I have read many of her books and was anxious to hear her speak (having missed opportunities before). I have to say the sound wasn’t particularly goodin St Paul’s and I really had to listen hard at times.
Karen began by explaining that after her experience in orders she wanted nothing more to do with religion and for about seven years that was the case but that her study brought her back. The act of writing and trying to see/feel what that person felt helped. Her idea of religion (a man made term) is at times very different from your average person and explains that for her finding God is more about the ‘ah’ factor, the silence, the listening to music, art. This I can relate to. She also said that it is something you have to do like learning to swim or drive, not something you can learn from a book and that the whole point is in living compassionately.
She answered questions from the audience and these threw light on other areas, such as prayer which she feels aren’t answered by God but that prayer is helpful to us to express how we feel. She admitted that she was useless with prayer which as a nun was rather a disadvantage but that the plain song, the singing (she also said she couldn’t sing) helped her greatly.
Asked about what to do if someone looses their faith she replied ‘leave them alone!’ Don’t try to feed them theology, doctrine or tell them what to do but let them find their own way.
Karen spoke about all religions, our lack of understanding of them which of course can lead to disorted ideas and that what most people know about Islam could be written on the back of a postcard. She also spoke about the early Christians and their view of things. There were some things here I felt she was a little dismissive of like the different Gospel accounts and her thoughts on the ressurection which she describes as a myth (something that happened once and still is) but too vague for me. The trinity Karen said was something taught after baptism, a sort of contemplation. Again I felt this needed more explaining. She went on to say that worship was good but that she didn’t see God sitting ‘up there’ revelling in the praise. God is someone we cannot ever know or understand. Karen said that when we speak about us being made in God’s image we project ourselves onto him and think he is like us. Just as each of us is different God encompasses us all. Karen said that she doesn’t understand herself so how can she understand God.
The Bible, said Karen, should not be taken literally, as in the creation. I must admit I became a little confused here with her explanations, not helped by the poor sound quality in St Paul’s. I think she meant that it was constantly evolving. She described Jesus as a bit of a rebel with a temper who upset people, that he spent his life doing what we should do, stand up for the marginalised, go to those who need us.
For myself I would have liked a bit more about the relationship of Jesus to the father. Karen admitted that as a child she found Jesus a bit frightening. For me, I struggle with the relationship between Jesus and the father, yet the Holy Spirit I accept! Ever since I was a child I’ve been confused over who Jesus was and when I prayed I went straight to God, missing out the middle man! I still do that. There are parts of faith I cannot quite piece together and reconcile. I wasn’t really expecting all the answers last night. I know some of Karen’s views from her books and I know others don’t agree with her. In church there are parts of the service I find hard…one prayer I will not say and the Creed, well I say it but I wonder do I believe all this? Sometimes I feel like taking the doctrine out of religion because I don’t find God there but in other things in the world and I do believe that at the end of the day if you do for others what you would expect them to do for you then you doing what God expects of you.