The following is an article that Fr. Owen wrote for the Parish Magazine for Brixton in the June 2018 Issue.
OF BRIXTON AND YEALMPTON ST. MARY'S PARISH CHURCH, BRIXTON
Religion without God?
Simon Jenkins of the Guardian recently wrote of the Quakers ''The group is considering dropping God from its meetings guidance as it makes some feel uncomfortable. This is the new religiosity' The Guardian Sunday 6th May 2018.
I have sat with Quakers and Buddhists at various times of my life and spent most of the time in quiet with them. The first time I sat with Quakers in Reading there was mostly silence during the hour's session. Quakers sit in silence until they feel moved to speak and sometimes nobody speaks. I understood that if anyone was moved to speak it was God that moved them. The second time I sat with them most of the meeting was spent by members being moved by the Spirit to speak.
Zen Buddhists that I have sat with in Reading and Ashburton might say that the idea of a creator god is so vast that it is beyond the intellect of humans to fully comprehend - so it is better just to attempt to comprehend ourselves better. It is not surprising then that some atheists are drawn to Quakerism and Zen.
Most of the major religions of the world have quietist practices in common at the deepest levels of their contemplative processes. In Zen the early stages of 'sitting' are about unlearning the distractions of mind, thought and imagery and working through enlightenments as deeper realities unfold. There is no such systematic approach to Quakerism. Zen and Christianity have their dogmas or sutras whereas Quakers have no formal dogmas other than their own experiences - check out what Quakers say about their beliefs at: www.quaker.org.uk/about-quakers/our-faith/quakers-and-god
Since the Roman Catholic Vatican II council of 1962-1965 the Roman Church encouraged, among other things, dialogue with other World Faiths. Zen Buddhists and Western Churches reciprocated contemplative knowledge, experience and processes (practice) - we even began to hear of Zen Christianity. Jesuit priests, among others, trained as Zen Roshis (masters) in the far east and brought back their teaching and practice through retreats and contemplative worship communion services.
This also resulted in a renaissance of ancient Christian mysticism (experience of God) and contemplative spirituality. Many ancient Christian spiritual practices and Eastern Spiritual practices seemed familiar to each other at the deepest levels.
I became aware of this common ground more than 20 years ago attending retreats and groups - the spirituality seemed to fit what I was looking for and remains vitally important to my personal spiritual practice today.
Now we see the growth of 'mindfulness'.
Looking at the various online advice about mindfulness techniques I realised that I had been on many Christian retreats over 30 years ago that were using the similar techniques taught by religious retreat leaders without using the term 'mindfulness'.
However, it is great to see the process being used and prescribed for schools, sports, and mental and physical health institutions. This ancient spiritual practice, with or without God, is no doubt benefiting many thousands of practitioners in getting to know themselves better. This should also lead the practitioners to know others better.
And if we call this knowing 'love' then we find we are following Jesus' commandment of loving our neighbour as ourselves - and this commandment is second only to loving God with our whole selves. So, not a million miles away from loving God...
Please be in touch if you would like to participate in a sitting group.