Swimming in deep mystery

    4 March 2015

    For me, faith is all about asking questions. It’s not a kind of house you build and then you move in and there are the walls and the door and it all feels safe. It's much more like swimming and not knowing where the bottom is...it’s constantly mysterious and deep and quite exciting.

    David Hoyle

    I didn’t grow up in a family of faith – my mother had a very lively faith until her teens and then her own mother died and I think that was a crisis for her. S

    o I grew up in a household of lawyers – a household of affection and argument but no faith. Sunday lunchtime was like a courtroom really.

    My father was above all a man of principle – that’s what really mattered. You had to have good reasons for everything and behind everything there were some deeply held principles. So I got quite interested in why you might have principles and how you might know some things are true and some things are not.

    It started at school when I was about 14 or 15 – we had to write an essay about the claims of the Christian faith and I wrote such a brilliant dismissal of the Christian faith, I was so really, really proud of this. So I handed it in and the very canny teacher gave it back to me a week later and there was no mark at all. He just wrote on the bottom of the essay, “Don’t write about things you don’t know about”. I remember thinking, “You muppet – I’ll show you!” So I took myself off to church and look what happened!

    This is where churches really matter. I tipped up into a parish church where there just happened to be a completely inspiring curate and a really lively youth group. The whole business of talking about faith and relationships all became inseparable for me and in fact the woman I married was in that church youth group. It’s a very complicated story but it’s something to do with suddenly coming home, I suppose.

    Quite soon I started thinking seriously about ordination - when I was only 18 or 19 – it took about another 10 years before I was ordained. There were some quite dramatic ups and downs, working out what you are called to do, sorting out whether you’ve got the courage to do some of those things, the competence - those were quite hard questions for me. There were some very bad moments in all of that but I was finally ordained when I was about 27. I was suffering for a long time with the idea that you get ordained because you’re going to be good at it and really we all need protecting from those clergy – they can do an awful lot of damage – the sort of people who want to put you right! One of the great failings of the clergy is to get in the way all the time. I think the job of the clergy largely is to get out of the way so that people can stand in the presence of God.

    We all come to faith in slightly different ways and we all exercise our faith in different ways. It is really important to know that we’re not supposed to come up with the same answers and feel the same way all the time. God makes us for very good reasons as individuals and each of us is to find our own way. We’re all called into full humanity but we all do that rather differently. For me, faith is all about asking questions. It’s not a kind of house you build and then you move in and there are the walls and the door and it all feels safe. For me faith is much more like swimming and not knowing where the bottom is. That’s one of the things I love about it - it’s constantly mysterious and deep and quite exciting.

    This is a very particular Lent for me – my father died very recently and I’ve been thinking quite hard about some quite intimate domestic things. I’m only just stepping back into my duties at the Cathedral and coming to terms with the fact that I left when it wasn’t Lent and returned when it is. There’s been a great feeling of being sustained by the Cathedral and gratitude in all that. For me this Lent is going to be quite a sustained period of preparation for dealing with the whole business of how you celebrate Christ’s risen life at Easter. That’s going to be a big ask this time.

    The Very Revd Dr David Hoyle is Dean of Bristol

    This was adapted from a live BBC interview which can be heard

    online here


    Contemplate now

    What does it mean to you that Christ descended to the dead?

    Faith, religion, church – how can these be seen as mysterious?

    Do you feel God equips you for the challenges faith gives? Does faith challenge you? Ask for both challenge and strength.

    Meditate through the day

    We have a certain promise in Christ; and we do not know what tomorrow will bring.