Sunday, 27 October 2013

Lex Vivendi, Lex Credendi..?

Sorry for the Latin. There's really no excuse, other than it's a punchy way of saying in four words what I'm now going to take about four hundred to explain. (And it rhymes.) For those of you who are into this kind of thing, you might well recognise my title as a variation of the ancient formulation 'Lex orandi, lex credendi', which translates into English as something like 'the law of praying is the law of believing.' In other words, what we pray and how we pray shape our belief in and about God, not the other way round. This in itself is a pretty counter-cultural way of looking at things; I've met so many non-believers who have said 'Convince me, then I'll believe.' 'Lex orandi, lex credendi' suggests that belief comes not prior to prayer, but as a result of it. At heart, this saying affirms that faith is first and foremost about prayer, worship; about relationship with God. And out of that relationship emerge beliefs about the God whom we worship.  A third clause was later added to this formulation; 'lex vivendi' ('the law of living'). As we pray, so we believe, so we live. It is a beautiful vision of how Christians' lives, shaped by worship, are expressions of the faith that come from worship. 

All of this came to mind as I had a free afternoon yesterday, and decided to soak up some Choral Evensong at my local cathedral. I think that the Holy Spirit must have led me there, because so much spoke to me, and of me, to my churches and of my churches. (See how my 'credendi' there comes from my 'orandi'; I encountered God in a place of worship, and so believe that it was the mysterious work of the Spirit to plant the idea in my mind to go in the first place.) One of the readings was from Luke 14, the healing of the man with either dropsy or swollen legs, depending on which translation of the Bible you're reading. What struck me when I heard about it yesterday was what happened immediately before and after the healing. Here's the passage:

 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ And they could not reply to this.
Often in the Gospels, the Pharisees try to catch Jesus out with legal test-cases. But here the shoe's on the other foot; Jesus is testing them. That in itself is interesting. So Jesus heals the man who quickly leaves the scene. Other healees (so to speak) hang around much longer, speak and are listened to, and are fleshed out as real characters within the narrative. This scene isn't so much about the man who is healed, as about Jesus taking on the Pharisees in a legal precedent-setting test-case. This scene isn't so much about  healing as it is about the sabbath. What interested me yesterday as I heard it read in the cathedral was that Jesus doesn't win the argument by knowing the law better than the Pharisees. He doesn't win the argument by applying the law more wisely tan the Pharisees. He wins the argument by saying, in effect, 'Yes, you know the laws to do with the sabbath - but that's not what you really do, is it?' The precedent is set not by either knowing or applying the law, but by how the Pharisees actually live. How the Pharisees lived was a more accurate barometer of what they believed than what they knew or prayed. Jesus knew this, and used it to his advantage in this set-to.    

This got me thinking about how I live. If Jesus were to challenge me, to throw down the gauntlet of a question to which, as a good Christian I know the right answer, it's an unsettling thought that His response might well be 'Yes, but that's not what you really do, is it?' Knowing the right answers is one thing. Living as though you knew them is quite another. 

And that got me wondering. If someone were to analyse my life for one day, any day, and pore over what I'd done, where I'd gone, whom I'd spent time with, how I'd spent any money, and so on, and attempted, from their findings, to reconstruct my beliefs, what would they come up with? I'm using 'belief' here in a very generic, non-specific way; there would be beliefs about my children, about education, work, food (oh yes) and knowledge and environmental impact and all sorts of things that aren't specifically Christian. In amongst all of that, there would be beliefs about prayer and the church and God himself. Would the beliefs that emerge out of a single day of my life be a more accurate barometer of what I believe than anything I could say?  

There's much I could say, and doubtless will in later posts, about how all of this relates to grace; 'it is by grace you are saved', and also about the church and the place of the church as affirming the 'orandi' which regularly re-calibrates our 'vivendi' for us. Thank God for that. But for now I'm just going to leave the question for you to ponder; if your day, say yesterday for example, were to be forensically analysed and your beliefs reconstructed from it, what would it say about what you really believe?    


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