TheGroundOfFaithThe Ground of Faith
Exploring Science, Mysticism and Experience Together

September 2005
"Worshipping in Spirit and in Truth"

Editors: The Rev. Michael Cocks The Rev. Victor MacGill


Note from the Editors

General articles

Thomas Merton on St John of the Cross

Thoughts on myth, spirit, and our times:
an interview with Joseph Campbell,
by Tom Collins

Theme Articles

A new paradigm for cosmology – and for theology? Rev. Dr E.A. Johnston, MA MTh DMin

Lloyd Geering's big problem with St Paul. Michael Cocks

The Rev. Ian Crumpton, Presbyterian minister, writes the following comment on the above article:

St Stephen on The Point of Unfolding

Communications from our readers:

From the Revd Judy Ryland, Macau.

From an Anglican Clergyman in Australia:

The Rev. John A. Simpson, Australia. 

Two poems from Anthony Buckley, London, UK

From the Rev. Jorie Manfield-Ryan, Australia

Note from the Editors

This journal is affirming and supporting the life and work of the Christian churches, with their varying theologies, and that it aims to do so by giving examples of how science, mysticism, and human spiritual experience also affirm the core of Christianity. We present some items of general interest, and then articles to do with the theme of this issue: “Worshipping in Spirit and in Truth,” an echo of the Samaritan woman's question as to the right mode of worship, whether it was on Mount Gerizim or Mount Zion.

The St Stephen quotations can be read as if they were the words of a modern mystic, and be found valid for us, or not.

We would like to draw your attention to some interesting and relevant resources. You might also like to check the identity of the production team.. Submission of articles, and both positive and negative correspondence welcomed.

General articles

Illustration 1: St John of the Cross

Thomas Merton on St John of the Cross

"the greatest of all mystical theologians" : Thomas Merton

St John of the Cross is perhaps as close as anyone to Stephen the Martyr, who has been partly the inspiration of this journal. The notable Catholic mystic, Thomas Merton, writes as follows about St John: [to read, click this url:]

Illustration 2: El Greco: Storm over Toledo

He begins, “If you have never seen El Greco's view of Toledo, you might take a look at it. It will tell you something about St John of the Cross. I say it will tell you something – not very much. St John of the Cross and El Greco were contemporaries, they lived in the same country, they were mystics, though by no means in the same degree.” “El Greco’s view of Toledo is very dramatic. It is full of spiritual implications. It looks like a portrait of the heavenly Jerusalem wearing an iron mask. Yet there is nothing inert about these buildings. The dark city built on its mountain seems to be entirely alive. It surges with life, coordinated by some mysterious, providential upheaval which drives all these masses of stone upward toward heaven, in the clouds of a blue disaster that foreshadows the end of the world.

Somewhere in the middle of the picture must be the building where St. John of the Cross was kept in prison.”






Taken from the Magnificat on 12/14, St John's feast day.


St Stephen's Prayer expresses the same ideas very simply:

Lord, let me forget that I am me,

Let me know that I am with thee,

Let me not separate myself from thee

Because I am me.”

Illustration 3: Joseph Campbell

Thoughts on myth, spirit, and our times:
an interview with Joseph Campbell,
by Tom Collins

Joseph Campbell is perhaps the world's foremost scholar of mythology. Among his many books are
The Hero with a Thousand Faces, The Masks Of God, Myths To Live By, and his current multi-volume Historical Atlas Of World Mythology. Interviewer Tom Collins is a Los Angeles based writer and editor whose works include Steven Spielberg, Creator of E.T. (Dillon Press, 1983).

Read the Interview

Theme Articles

A new paradigm for cosmology – and for theology? Rev. Dr E.A. Johnston, MA MTh DMin

A personal response occasioned by Simon Singh’s, Big Bang: the most important scientific discovery of all time, and why you should know about it.

Illustration 4: Simon Singh

Part of my response to Singh’s book was to read also Martin Rees’ Just Six Numbers, which I learnt of through Singh.

We are the first generation actually to know how all things came to be! Much of what in earlier generations was a matter of conjecture, a mystery and so of faith is now a matter of knowledge. It is only in our lifetime, indeed only in the last twenty years, that scientists have unraveled the way in which all things have come into being. The “theory” of the “Big Bang” has been established as providing an accurate model of the whole of creation, from the moment of its inception to the present day. Nor is it realistic to speak of a time before the Big Bang: for the Big Bang marks the beginning of both time and space, there was nothing before it nor anything outside of it.

Simon Singh’s book, Big Bang: has brought this home to me. It has enabled me to understand at least something more of the theory and how it developed in the scientific community, mainly through insights gained during the latter part of the 20th Century. He explains that the proving of the “theory” required a “paradigm shift” in the minds of all scientists, a shift that was difficult for many of them to make and fully enter into. It required a change in the fundamental way they understood the whole of cosmology and of everything that flowed from it. The theory shows the whole of creation as one seamless process from the moment of its inception to today, one process ever expanding into tomorrow. Read the whole article. (7pp. If printed out)

Lloyd Geering's big problem with St Paul. Michael Cocks

His Christianity Without God (2002)

Illustration 5: Lloyd Geering

In preparing this article on Lloyd Geering, I am very conscious of living in a small country, where we tend to know each other. I am conscious that a number of my friends and acquaintances have much love and admiration for Geering, I think for the reasons that people were grateful to Bishop John Robinson and his Honest to God. Both helped to empower Christians to encounter the Divine on the basis of what can be known and felt in this present age, and not to be dependent solely on the witness of our spiritual ancestors. Furthermore, I know the obvious, that these friends are human like myself, and have peak experiences, feelings of the numinous, intuitions, loving relationships, value the communality of life to be found in churches, and have a desire for a society imbued with the essence of the teachings of Jesus. I acknowledge Geering's importance, and share some of his views. But I strongly disagree with the philosophy underlying his work, which is such that it prescribes conclusions, and thus precludes research. He also makes statements about fundamental issues, which are easily shown to be incorrect.

I have asked some friends who share his philosophy to check what I have written in this review, and have heeded their comments. I have appended comments from the Rev. Ian Crumpton, where he suggests alternative interpretations of Geering's standpoint, and I hope readers will feel moved to submit comments of their own.

The problem with celebrity

Whether they acknowledge it to be the case or not, fundamentalist, evangelical, liberal, charismatic and sceptical theologians have their varying selections of biblical passages that they use to confirm and justify their theological positions. This in itself is fine, since there are many theologies to be discovered in the Old and New Testaments, and different personalities may be attracted to the one, or to the other. In the case of Christianity without God, Lloyd Geering is no exception. His view on Christianity is determined by his materialist or naturalistic philosophy, and therefore he does not accept the reality of the transcendent, and of course does not believe in the afterlife. So he selects his Bible references accordingly. This is quite legitimate and there are many scholars of standing who will agree with his stance. In addition there are many clergy who are drawn to his point of view, and find his stance exceptionally well articulated. Moreover, Lloyd is a fine teacher, and has considerable charm.

His celebrity, and the honours bestowed upon him by the New Zealand government, however, do pose a problem. Lloyd, already a C.B.E has been given the title Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, equivalent to the designation “Knight Grand Companion” in the NZ honours system. Because he is such a public figure, and because he has been a professor of Old Testament Studies, we might put our trust in his scholarship and take the information he gives us about the New Testament for Gospel, so to speak.

Lloyd Geering makes very clear that his philosophy is naturalistic or materialist, with no ifs or buts. He is clear that there is no afterlife, no dimensions of reality beyond those of space and time. The consequences of this stance are that:

  1. He ignores the work of quantum physicists that paints a picture of reality very different from that of the mechanist physics of the 1800s.

  2. As a matter of doctrine, he rejects sight unseen, all accounts of what is at present called “the paranormal,” regardless of the academic stature and integrity of the physicists and other scientists and other people reporting and discussing such experience.

  3. This leads him to reject the writings of St Paul. In Galatians Paul writes that three years after his own vision of the risen Jesus, he stayed two weeks with Peter in Jerusalem, and met James the brother of Jesus. As Paul based his whole missionary work on the basis of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, he will have discussed these matters with Peter and James. Paul says that Jesus appeared to Peter, and the apostles, and to 500 others, and lastly to himself. But Geering ignores this. His doctrine does not allow Paul and Peter even to think they had seen the risen Jesus. Instead he maintains that the supposedly false story of the resurrection arose a whole generation after the time of Paul.

  4. In p126 of his Christianity without God, Lloyd Geering writes that Jesus “was no doctrinaire atheist and yet he was almost exclusively concerned with the human condition rather than with God.” This picture of Jesus is obtained by rejecting Paul's testimony, and most of the material in the gospels. So much is rejected of the gospels and of the writings of Paul, that we could be led to suspect that Geering is more led by his desire for a new and humanistic Christianity than by scholarly concerns. We can feel a certain sympathy for such a desire since the aspect of Jesus as a social and religious reformer has often been obscured in liturgy and later theology.

For overseas readers it can be explained that Lloyd Geering is a former principal of the theological hall at Knox College, Dunedin, and was first professor of religious studies at Victoria University, Wellington. He has much in common with the British theologian Don Cupitt. For both Geering and Cupitt, God does not exist ‘out there’ but is a part of our human reality, a personified ideal of religious values, therefore we need a new type of Christianity - a Christian Buddhism - in order to explore this new understanding of God. The aim of this new Christianity is both to help individual development and to operate as a collective agency for progressive social change. Read the whole article

The Rev. Ian Crumpton, Presbyterian minister, writes the following comment on the above article:

Quite a bit of modern scholarship is focused on recovering the Wisdom Literature, and Geering is locating Jesus in that practical minded tradition.” Read the whole letter

St Stephen on The Point of Unfolding

September 10, 1973

Speak of the unfolding, and the point of unfolding [in each of us]:

How can I best describe the seed in the ground,

which will grow into a great tree?

Each stage of the unfolding is essential for the tree.

The object of unfolding is the tree. Each stage in itself is of the greatest importance at the time of that stage.

Is it your wish to know the stage of unfoldingunfolding, point of

at which you have arrived?

Would a seed, as the first sprout reaches from the ground, from inside the earth, and sees the light and feels the heat of the sun for the first time, not say to itself, “Is this the object, or is there a further purpose?”

Would it not maybe recognise or perhaps associate with other trees, from what it can sense, what it can feel of the vibrations that come to it, and say, this is what I wish to achieve, this is what I feel I should achieve.

The concept of unfolding is [in] the now of this moment.

The importance of knowing what was before for that seedseed,

is only of relative importance for the understanding

of what is now:

not what it may be, nor what it shall be,

nor understanding the desires or the instincts.

The salmon that returns to the same spot

from which it had come away as a fingerling,

that is the object. Each mile of the journey is of importance.

Is there something that you can ask through my mind that will help me to make this clearer, Jeremy? Feel and probe...

Jeremy has nothing to say yet.

Has this in itself fetched a question, or are there other questions that will help me make it clearer? Feel my difficulty, if you please. How can a leaf tell, through the branch, the seed that is yet to come, of the unfolding after it arrives, and it is fallen to the ground?

Illustration 6: Kamani tree, Hawaii

Even though the leaf knows, what comparison concept can it use to explain to the seed yet to come, except,

when as the seed begins to come, to tell it that it is a seed,

and as the seed begins to grow to say,

Do not worry seed, you are progressing well.”

When the seed is due to fall, to say to the seed,

You will live again, do not worry, you shall unfold”

Can you see my problem?

You can say to the seed, “You shall one day, be as the tree.”

Believe this, for each thing that happens to you

is for that object.

Each belief that you have ever heard, and ever seen,

or can ever conceive, has the same object.

Each seed has been told this object even before it was a seed.

To explain whilst things are happening, what is happening,

becomes a simple task for the leaf

that has been through these experiences

and then finds itself only a part.

The concept, even though experienced, and the unfolding,

even though the leaf came about through this unfolding,

is hardly explainable.

But the leaf does know that it is a part of the tree,

that it was a part of the seed,

that it did unfold, as the coming seed will unfold.

In this way only can I help, to say

Think of yourself as this seed.

The stage of the seed is immaterial.

Unfolding you may be, as the case with what I am,

and what I am connected to, has unfolded in a manner,

has unfolded not to become the tree, but to produce the seed, which produces the tree.”

[For other teachings of Stephen, see previous issues of this journal. To read about the experience of St Stephen, see the Stephen home page.]

Communications from our readers:

From the Revd Judy Ryland, Macau.

I am a missionary in Macau SAR (China, a ferry ride from Hong Kong to put me on the map).  I am an ordained Deacon in the Anglican Church with a BTh.  I am Clergy in Charge of the Morrison Protestant Chapel in Macau.  It is the only English speaking church in Macau.


I was born in Bristol UK and migrated to Australia when I was 28.  I have been in Australia thirty years, one year in Mainland China and one year in Macau.  I will be backpacking for two weeks around Malaysia on my return to Australia for two weeks before returning to Macau.


I teach English at an all Chinese Anglican School part time, will be Chaplain to the Anglican English speaking school, Hospital chaplain for any English speakers in addition to being in charge of the Morrison Chapel.

Illustration 7: The Morrison Chapel


You may know or not know that Dr Robert Morrison was the first person to transcribe the Bible from English to Chinese, first English Chinese dictionary and Chinese Grammar.  He worked with the East India Company as a translator and was highly regarded in Asia and Britain. The Chapel also claims to have had the first ordained woman priest, a beautiful Chinese lady back in the 1930's.


Living in this part of the world it is difficult to access much theological information and your articles look just the kind of material I am interested in to challenge the mind.  My congregation represents individuals from around the globe and for many English is their second language.


There is a Theological College in Hong Kong but the ferry ride is expensive and so my trips are fairly limited.  Also time is another factor.  Like many older woman we do the full time hours but earn an honorarium.  Still I am loving the experience and serving the Lord here and I am deeply grateful for the opportunities this adventure God has led me too.  I am also blessed that one of my two sons is working for his company for two years in Beijing so I get surprise visits from him when he can make it this way.  My other son may be going to work in Japan shortly so Asia may become a family affair. 

From an Anglican Clergyman in Australia:

Please unsubscribe me now.


"Let no-one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.  Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD..." (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)


I wish to have nothing to do with you.  The power of what I believe does not come from the talking dead, or from mediums or conversations with dead people, but with a relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ, our ONLY mediator between us and God, and the Word of God which speak to us through his Spirit.  By the very infatuation you have for conversations with dead people before the last great DAY of resurrection, you lead people away from the power of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and suggest we need more than him.  This is detestable in the sight of God and is nothing less than evil.

[“And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God.”  1 John 3:24b-4:6 It would be good if all Christians could acknowledge that they quote only the Bible passages with which they agree. One can doubt that the correspondent would quote and act on e.g. Deuteronomy 21.21. Editor.]

The Rev. John A. Simpson, Australia. 

Many thanks for the e-mail edition of The Ground of Faith.  Yes!!  I want to subscribe to future editions.  This is what I've been waiting for for a long time.

Two poems from Anthony Buckley, London, UK

Remembrance Day 1994

On this soft day, over green mown lawns,
Ancient soldiers process by cenotaphs to men they knew long ago:
The valiant dead, in the soil beneath their feet.
Are their tears for loss or for the joyous triumph of Good?

Must that French field be forever England?
When the padre says those fallen warriors live now by other, happier,
Don't our eyes fall, disbelieving, to that rain-drenched earth,
Finding more sweet beauty in the cherished songs of glorious sacrifice?

Can we imagine nothing more noble, nothing more beautiful;
Would resurrection detract from what we feel on this day?
Are we wrong to be happy for those men blasted into the other world?
The padre says they now live more-happily than we!
The tears of old men are human tears, soaking down to join
The mortal bones of broken comrades beneath God's earth.
Let them fall.

On that lucky youthful day, that lucky youthful day,I crashed my car, Wrote it away -And nearly me with it.Evening it was And halfway to Wales Racing into the evening Atop the Somerset dales Then bend hit me. And the wall held me From plunging into the valley. And -midway - Time stopped. Time ceased...No longer in the death-carriages; Body and vehicle deceased, I was outside, elsewhere With all the time out the world: Time enough to see my life,a memory of me: innocent child Bare-legged and fishing in a pool.Time enough to feel the love Behind it all: Broad,broad - so big! Understanding, non-judging - so wide. And then back to the screaming tyres,The wall part-tumbling, Saving me from more than a cut knee ...but I was in ecstasy. They give me other reasons, say it wasn't true. I only say, I was there, not you That intellect and love were holding me - And it's all right to die. So what lesson have I learned from this they ask, (If only not to drive so fast!)

Drive faster - but towards that Love,

Drive slower, savouring Goodness.

From the Rev. Jorie Manfield-Ryan, Australia

Gliding with Miss Lucy

Open wide the day with eyes

tracing the thermal-driven journey

of the glider dipping towards the horizon

climbing altered air to meet

the sacrament of morning.

Sometimes the sky is hung

with stars especially in the light

and people rush to trap them one, two, three,

pockets open, lined with expectation.

I am lost in wonder and settle down

on the hill to wait until one falls.

The farm is benign and snoring, lazy after lunch

and me a candidate for contemplation,

conversing with Miss Lucy, a cranky ewe

with hanging dugs from over-zealous lambing.

How can she answer me

never having been seduced

by soaring dreams, harness tight,

helmet on her woolly head?

She snaps at the grass

and juice froths at the corners

of her mouth.

A star doesn’t fall of course,

but somehow the horizon

fuses creation and a summer afternoon,

dissolves its boundaries,

coming nearer to the infinite.

Miss Lucy stares with an ambivalent eye

as I loop the world.

There is no life but this.


On the road to the headland,

I lie in the grass to rest for a while

and watch the mountain grow.

An ant navigates my arm

with subtle understanding.

Coming constantly closer

the details are blurred.

There are no shadows,

only the valley and the mountain,

an ant on my skin.

Old Fuller sucks and spits.

Outside the pub, he thumps

his favourite words together

and throws them to the air.

We let them fall. Dissatisfied

he turns and pees against the wall.

We believe and find the shape to match his wreckage.

In front of him, wings brown with nicotine,

an angel walks. We bow our heads

and Fuller smirks.

The spirit moves

in the steam of early morning tea

tipped into a saucer, the swirling centred

and cooled with my father's breath.

In the coldest of places, I hug my knees,

coming home from the early caves,

from the illusion of truth beyond

all truths, content with silence,

watching smoke from camp fires

greet the mist.

Sweet Three, I am your guest.

Son et Lumière

This night has strange stars

a place off my beaten track

foggy clues, clumsy

and unseen, predictions

shaded by the fear of being lost again.

There is a hint of thunder. Some reality

of storm or indigestion? The forecast

offers no protection. I go for order,

an assertive list of boundaries. A voice calls

but I am busy counting constellations

as logic. Counting loud

to drown the rumbling.

A whisper breaks the dark:

deep music of these far off sparks?

Each star winks, wild parabolas

pouring out the light

to shine me home.