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Hallo again to all.

One might argue that corporate worship, per Matthew 18:20, is the most important function offered by 'organized religion'. Never mind the quip 'We're not organised, we're Anglican'; think about the times that you didn't skip church because you knew that your friends would be there. We 'go to church': other people will be there, we sit in rows, we sing songs from a book, we wish the kneeler cushions were bigger, and we try to listen to the sermon even though it is hot and frowsty and the priest is mumbling. Last week whilst travelling we attended a divine sevice that was, alas, an utter waste of our spiritual time. If God was there, He was reading a magazine.

After such a sadness of a service, we considered private devotions. We know people who tell us that they don't attend church regularly because they're better able to connect with God when they are alone. We suspect that they are likely connecting a nine-iron with a dimpled ball and thinking about trajectory rather than Jesus. We've come to believe, though, that private devotions by lay people (as a substitute for an occasional missed corporate worship service) are not just for nutters and slackers.

Yes, it's rather an awkward substitute for actually attending chuch. However, if you have the discipline and the means (and are willing to flirt with the spiritual dangers), you can probably do it: be a responsible Anglican Christian without being seen much at a parish church. We know a few Anglican solitaries, who remain alone in the name of God, but they are watched over by bishop visitors who push and pull and bless. These days most solitaries are not permitted to use email, those bishop visitors having figured out that email is not very solitary, so we've not had contact with them in years. But we know they are out there, getting by, alone.

The word 'mystic' is used to describe someone who has a personal relationship with God. (People don't seem to describe themselves as mystics; rather, their admirers and biographers do.) Rather than relying on intermediaries or scripture to understand God's will or teachings, the mystic finds a way to communicate directly with and listen directly to God, in ways that surpass ordinary language and go beyond even images.

We're alone as we write this on a Sunday afternoon, looking out at the mouth of a very big river and hoping that the mosquitoes don't get through the netting. Writing for Anglicans Online typically involves quiet prayerful preparation, focus on content and meaning, and then as the letter begins to crystallize, craftsmanship with words. This is not a group activity, and like most people we find that we cannot write and talk or listen at the same time. Even the radio is off; the only sounds beyond the keyclicks are birds and the occasional gasoline engine powering some unseen vehicle.

Sometimes, alone communing with God, people come to realisations and understandings to which they might not have been led in corporate worship. And sometimes they feel compelled to bring those concerns to the attention of church leaders. Under the right circumstances, one person can make a difference.

It is usually the other way 'round. From time to time central authorities use their governing power to push individuals towards what they consider to be a better place. A common example is the abolition of slavery, in which the communal power of government was used to force individuals to let go of the practice of slavery. (Letting go of a belief in slavery took longer, but once it was forbidden and therefore not visibly practiced, individuals no longer had training grounds).

The process can work the other way, though. And sometimes does work. Individuals, presumably through a personal dialogue with God, have been able to stand up and change governments and change the world — or at least the world around them. Two familiar examples are Our Lord and Mahatma Gandhi; examples of attempts to change the world and failing are, sadly, legion.

You probably can communicate with God when you are alone if you know how, and then bring His message to your friends if you can put it into words and if you can get them to believe it. It might be good to verify that it really is God that you are talking to, lest something like another Jonestown result. Remember that Matthew 18:20 didn't assert the inverse: he didn't say that unless you have two or three gathered together, God won't be there.

Alone with God and seagulls

See you next week. Do try to attend church on Sunday, though.

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Last updated: 29 July 2007

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