As I sat in the car at Hull Paragon Train Station dark, rain-laded grey clouds scudded by overhead, driven by the blustery wind. I watched the changing patterns of raindrops on the windscreen and listened to rain lashing down on the roof as the latest squall hurried through. I realised how warm, dry and isolated from the weather I was; cut-off, cocooned and sheltered inside the car I felt like a spectator of what was happening outside rather than a participant. The raindrops on the windscreen, so very close, transparent, yet out of reach, emphasised the point.
So I thought, is this what we expect faith to be, something which protects and shelters us from life? Is this what church should offer? Then my mind turned to the Rollright Stones which we visited back in March on a day when the clouds were equally grey and lowering. Whatever sacred meaning and purpose the Kings Men Stone Circle had for the neolithic people who built it is forever lost to us. One thing is obvious though: this is not a place which shelters you from the elements. Here you are outdoors in the midst of the landscape, utterly exposed to the worst of the weather. For this reason faith here speaks very immediately into life experience; there is nowhere to hide. All around the views are expansive and one can see for miles into the far distance. The site is open to the sky and the vista of surrounding countryside. It was well chosen. In such a place as this religious meanings and values have very visibly to withstand and inform the totality of human experience. The ancient symbol of the circle makes good spiritual sense in this context. Ancient Celtic prayers invoking the 'encircling' of God need no explanation when one stands here. Encircling is a felt truth and an inherent need.
Looked at today from the perspective of my Christian faith these stones speak to me of resilience, of abiding truths which work, of a very public witness to the faith experience which sustains us. Like some long petrified worshippers from another long-lost age the stones stand to remind us of what we stand for now. Each one is unique and each has its place; each belongs in this encircling of diversity. There is space to enter and find that deeper sense of being encircled which has little to do with being kept dry or warm, but everything to do with being and belonging. Here I relearn the truth which Jesus embodied as he walked and talked and died out of doors. Whether the sun beats down on our brow, or the rain lashes down to soak us to the skin, or the windchill freezes us, here faith celebrates the reality that there is nothing love cannot face. Here faith stands up and makes sense. Here, with an out of doors faith, meaning, purpose and identity are shaped.
Is church then too safe, too sheltered? Does it more reflect a 'raindrops on the windscreen' experience of being spectators, or is there still that sense of being out of doors participants in an all-weather faith? I wonder......