Gretta Vosper - a distinctive voice
Michael Wright considers the writings of Gretta Vosper whose UK visit takes place in September with events in London and Oxford. Tickets available.
What Gretta Vosper will bring to her presentations in London and Oxford in September are, in her own words, "a challenge to us all to make a paradigm shift in our thinking about our religious faith and practice." This shift has three elements: an intellectual challenge, a practical challenge, and a spiritual challenge.
What the world needs she states is
"the radical simplicity that lies at the core of Christianity and many other faiths - an abiding trust in the way of love expressed in just and compassionate living.
Out of the multitude of understanding of religion, spirituality and faith, out of the varying views of the origins, nature and purpose of life, out of the countless individual experiences of what might be called divine, out of it all may be distilled a core that very simply put, is love".This core message carries its own authority. It needs no doctrine to validate it, no external expert or supernatural authority to tell us it is right. Love is quite demanding enough as a foundation, sufficiently complex and challenging without the requirement of additional beliefs, unbelievable to many. The church the future needs is one of people gathering to share and recommit themselves to loving relationships with themselves, their families, the wider community, and the planet."
Her thinking on this theme is set out well in her book With or Without God - how the way we live matters more than what we believe. Her second book, Amen - prayer in a world beyond belief explores the whole theme of the spiritual aspects of this intellectual and practical challenge, without reference to God.of teaching on prayer centres on four themes of the handy acronym ACTS - Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Gretta gives these initial letters different words, and having read her a couple of years ago I have adapted the same acronym myself and found the whole concept very helpful. As my theology changed, and I moved from a regular religious discipline to a much more relaxed and open one, I realised when I read "Amen" that I had simply dropped a focus of spiritual practice which I could return to without a focus on God.
A has become for me Awe. Instead of seeking to adore God, I give time to reflect on all the aspects of the created world, and of relationships and experiences which fill me with awe. The complexity of life, the detail of something like a flower, or a human being, the beauty of much of the natural world, the enormity of the universe I find awesome. I stand back and reflect on loving personal relationships, on unselfish acts, on sacrificial lives, and I am awestruck, as I am by the creativity of music, and art, of colour, texture, aroma, taste, touch, and sound.
C has become for me Concern. The topics that used to be the subject of my intercessions are now my concerns. Instead of offering a shopping list to God of people and causes that are the focus of my attention, I reflect on people and their issues I know, or further afield those I become aware through the media. I consider what response I can or wish to make - whether it is taking some action myself, or giving money, or lobbying. There are many concerns that I can do little about, but thinking, reflecting in a loving concern I believe may be helpful in ways I am not able to give a coherent explanation for.
T remains for me Thankfulness. There is so much in my life I realise that I take for granted. Now when I take time to consider some of the many aspects of my life for which I am profoundly thankful, it enriches my appreciation enormously. Even things as simple and ordinary as my spectacles - without which my life would be diminished. I find it very beneficial to count my blessings.
S has become for me Self-examination. As Socrates is believed to have said, "the unexamined life is not worth living". The traditional Christian emphasis in self-examination is to focus on the negatives, on 'sins" on failure, neglect, and self-abasement. That on its own is unhealthy. I find it helpful to consider the positives as well as the negatives, or simply to review what I have thought, or said, or done to consider whether some things were appropriate, or could have been done differently. I seek to value the positives, as well as correct those which I regret.
Gretta will have her own way of expressing this simple, practical spiritual exercise. I can say that she has helped me to review mine in a wholly fruitful way, that I practice with my own integrity, and to my benefit, for which I am truly grateful.