At various times in my ministry, not least when things have been a struggle, or I have been down for one reason or another, I have found comfort and encouragement in a passage (pp 124/5) from the Epilogue of a little book, A New Heaven, by Richard Holloway, sometime Bishop of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Roderick is a priest who has been struggling with his faith, as so many of us do, and who in his ministry is brought into contact with a wide variety of people of all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of joys and sorrows, some of whom he loves and some he finds difficult to love: all sorts and conditions of men, we might say. Late one evening Roderick goes into church to pray, where he has a vision of this whole host of people being drawn to dance in a joyful circle: this is the kingdom of heaven. Words attributed often to St Augustine of Hippo (whose feast it is on Monday 28th August) come to mind: ‘God is a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’
Striking and challenging words for us today, in our still broken and divided church and world, where there is a tendency all the time to limit and define: who is in, who is out; who is for us and who against; a world torn apart by war and terrorism; heightening tension between Christian and Islamic fundamentalisms; increasing polarisation within and between nations; churches which cannot make up their mind whether to include or to exclude; I could go on. These words of St Augustine, ‘God is a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere’, and this vision of heaven – an ever widening circle opening to draw others in – all sorts and conditions of people – challenge us in our Christian living to be open and inclusive too. It reminds us again that there is no limit to the extent of God’s love, nothing and no-one is outside its circle, and this is the love we are called to share and to demonstrate in our lives and in the life of the church.
It reminds us too, when sometimes we may be tempted to do ourselves down, to reckon ourselves of little worth, that we too are within this circle, held in God’s love, even when we feel unable to love ourselves. (How often do we forget that in the summary of the Law, Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with your whole being; love your neighbour’ – not instead of or more than, but – ‘as you love yourself.’)
Let this vision of glory, of the all-embracing circle of God’s love, encourage and strengthen us in our commitment to look out into the world and draw all into this circle, this dance of love.