The following article was originally published in the August 2021 edition of Roqueta, Menorca’s English-language magazine.
Things must be gradually returning to some sort of normal state in Menorca, regardless of the effect of the British government’s ever-changing travel policies. A week in the life of the church in Menorca during July included three services in the church, one on Zoom, two visits to the crematorium, a meeting about a wedding blessing next year, a renewal of vows by a couple (and their four daughters) on their thirtieth wedding anniversary and the baptism of a four-month-old boy in Ciutadella. And everything that happens in the church is replicated on the internet at the moment.
Births, marriages and deaths, mingled with the regular observance of worship: such has been the life of the church for centuries – albeit without the internet factor. And therein lies an important point. Human life continues to evolve in many ways, including disciplines of science, technology and medicine. The challenge of religion is to remain relevant to human life in the face of its many changes.
It is easy to overlook the origins of Christianity in Judaism, the Jewish faith. One of the traditions of Judaism is that each generation of rabbis, as teachers, is expected to engage with the scripture of its faith (the Old Testament of our Bible) and enlarge the understanding of it by contributing something new. Human nature being what it is, this inevitably means that there is not a consistent, congruous point of view, but that various interpretations tussle with one another for relevance and acceptance. This keeps scripture alive, and imposes a challenge to seek fresh meaning.
Since the late nineteenth century Christianity has been plagued by a different kind of approach to scripture, whereby it is understood to be taken completely literally, and set apart from any kind of interpretation or evolution. This is a pity. Quite honestly, I find it disappointing that anyone can look at the religious literature of previous generations with the assumption that they had no appreciation for myth, metaphor, irony, imagination, or humour!
The core essence of what we find in the Bible does have a sort of inviolate truth, because it deals with human nature, something that really does not change as much as we might wish. Yet the sociological and cultural setting within which human nature exists does not remain static. It seems to me that the Jewish approach to the Bible offers opportunities to engage with questions of faith that apply timeless principles to timely questions of life.
During the past year, we have been confronted with a lot of timely questions about life, the universe and everything, and many of us have gone through a full range of emotions. We have been anxious, and stimulated; we have had times of simply hoping it will pass; and as time has gone by, we have seen places of opportunity, and we have been working out how things could be. Then, after all that, we find ourselves both hopeful and tired.
The thing is this: human existence has repeatedly been marked by periods of disruption. It can be all too easy to easy to look at both personal and collective periods of disruption as something to be survived or overcome – and when the challenge seems huge, or overwhelming, to be tempted to lose heart. But disruption creates opportunities for us – all of us! We have all had to learn something during the past 18 months. It might be about ourselves, or it might be about our purpose in life, or it might be about our world.
It is really helpful to have a resource that offers us guidance and encouragement, and this we can find in the scripture of our religion. But that resource is only of value in the context in which it finds itself. Biblical literalism misses an important point: scripture might be inspired by God; scripture might be the word of God (as captured and written by human beings); but that inspiration, that word, is meant to be a living thing, with which human beings are invited to engage themselves. This can give us the key to transforming disruption into renewal.
I believe that it is helpful for us to be willing to accept that renewal is part of something eternal, and rather than losing heart when things seem overwhelming, to remember that there might indeed be some sort of divine purpose to life, the universe and everything. We might not yet fully understand it all in this time and place, but it can be gradually revealed over time, with the many tools at our disposal, including science and religion working in harmony.
Meanwhile, a vicar’s life in Menorca continues to be filled with weekly worship, as well as births, marriages and deaths. Few priests now cycle around their village(s) to offer their ministry, like Mr Davis, the vicar in the village where I spent part of my childhood. Instead we ply our craft with keyboard, screen, wifi and optical fibre, as well as the more traditional elements of bread, wine, water and oil. There is room for renewal and tradition to coexist.