Sometimes Tradition talks about something we cannot put into words, sometimes it takes what we feel and places it in a wider context and this causes a shift in our perception. Sometimes Tradition and the teaching of the Church shows us something that is completely alien and in it we find something beautiful or challenging or difficult that is an invitation to change, to step out of ourselves and our set ideas.

The first time I encountered Julian of Norwich, I was aware that I was reading something by a woman who not only had had a profound and unique experience of God but that she was woman from such a different time and culture that I found it difficult grasping much of what she was saying. Yet I have discovered something in her reflections that has, never the less, fed my spiritual life for years.

C.S.Lewis recognizes this when he describes the discovery of Merlin, awoken from centuries of sleep in the book “That Hideous Strength.” Merlin is shocking to many of the characters in the books because, well because he has just walked out of the Dark Ages. His attitudes, his personal hygiene and his behaviour are completely alien. Yet here is an ally, with strength and wisdom that they need at the most dangerous and difficult time.

Sometimes reading the saints is a call to humility. Our idea of our own superiority, our novel modernist idea that we have it all sorted NOW gets shaken to pieces when we encounter a saint who had an experience of God that we cannot begin to comprehend AND who has other ideas that seem so uncomfortable to modern ears.

Sometimes this discomfort comes when we encounter someone of our own time who challenges our presuppositions. This is an opportunity to pray carefully and pay attention to our reactions. Some might be a genuine reaction to a view that is just different but it might be a sign that there is a resistance to what God is doing in our lives. One good example of this is Peter’s vision which led to him eating with Gentiles. This and Paul’s attitude to non-Jewish believers challenged many of the assumptions held by the first disciples.

Engaging with Tradition and Church teaching is important, whether our reactions are positive or negative. This is because Christianity is a corporate faith. Christ founded a Church, through which the Holy Spirit continues to reveal the truth about God. In the New Testament and in Church councils we see God working to deepen the revelation of himself. His call to us is to enter into what has been revealed through this community of faithful people over the millennia. Doing so enables God to move us beyond ourselves and our narrow horizons to a place when we too contribute our unique experience of God to the wider Church.