Centuries ago many people used to live their entire lives within a few miles of where they were born. Occasionally travellers would pass through with tales of far-away places which held wonders, treasures and maybe ‘dragons’. But few would dare cross the borders surrounding their small world of familiarity.
Nowadays many people again live their entire lives within a relatively small environment. Maybe it is not physical, since modern transportation puts the whole world within reach, but I’m speaking of relationships, culture and spirituality.
Our sphere of friends is gathered through encounters where we like to pass our time: work, the sports club, the toddler group or school, the pub. We meet like-minded people in comfortable environments and put down roots there. Occasional travellers pass through with tales of other lifestyles: we get peeps at them on the TV reality shows, a foreigner might join our band, or a tragedy might move us out of our comfortable world. But “few dare cross the borders of their small world of familiarity”, and most will lobby to maintain their personal utopia.
We understand how the world works through what we have learned through personal experience, the media and common sense. With our Western worldview glasses we know such things as: the economy has to be healthy, everyone should be educated and democracy is the only system that works. And of course we should all have rights, to health, happiness and freedom, particularly freedom of speech. We seldom stop to question the basis on which we have decided that all of these ‘truths’ are correct. When we hear tales of other cultures we are fearful that they will invade our territory and bring unimaginable horrors and suffering.
But perhaps we are most fearful of uncharted spiritual seas. England used to be a Christian nation, although deeply divided between Protestant and Catholic, but has largely come to believe in Scientism; the religion that science can explain everything. It can be comforting to think that science can tell us why Grandma died, and to hope that in the future cancer will be conquered. Occasionally we will hear tales of a spiritual realm, something that is not simply made of ‘stuff’, and strangers will speak of God and tell us that we have a ‘soul’. A frequent response is to ignore such ramblings, or to accept that such things may be ‘okay’ for them, but I’m quite happy in my own ideas thank you very much.
Secretly, if we are bold enough to ask ourselves, we will admit that our small-world outlook is largely driven by fear. We are afraid that we will lose our basis for life, even if it doesn’t seem to be working too well for us at the moment. We would love to befriend those in different circles, experience different cultures, and reach a satisfying understanding of who we are spiritually; we yearn to find our soul and our purpose.
It is the beginning of a new year: 2015. Two thousand and fifteen years after a special baby was born. Who as a man spoke strange tales of a spiritual realm and a God. A man whose words gave us a rock to build our lives on. A man who willingly allowed himself to be crucified to show that death could not hold him – or us. A man who Christians call God. Perhaps it is time to take our courage in our hands and explore this strange new land? Many have gone there before, but few have returned with tales of dragons! Instead, they come back with stories of hope and fulfilled purpose; the promised land. Shall we go?