As I mentioned yesterday I am reading, again, Joan Chittister’s book, “Called to Question,” in part as a response to the NPR “Talk of the Nation” interview Theresa McBain, the UMC minister turned atheist. “Called to Question” is a sometimes brutal reflection on the differences and connections between “religion” and “spirituality.” Chittister considered this eight years before Diana Butler Bass, Brian McLaren, and Marcus Borg, took it up. Actually, because the book is the culmination of five years of journaling and then the creation of a book she probably started considering this question in the late 1990’s. A Roman Catholic nun much of her scathing response to religion is the result of living in the confines of the Roman church and the limitations imposed upon women and laity by the teachings of the church. I appreciate much of what she writes.
This morning I am reading the second chapter of the book. Taking it slowly, pondering the portions I underlined when I read this book the first time. Considering what stands out for me now. In particular I am struck by this:
“Some people who haven’t gone to church for years are still very tied to it in psychological ways and never go beyond it….What forms us lives in us forever. The important thing is that it not be allowed to stunt our growth.”
In my previous post, and on other occasions, I have reflected on my leaving church and becoming an
“intentionally de-churched” person, and then finding my way back to church. I’ve been criticized for this and I’ve been called a heretic more than once. However, as I understand it, I am planted in the bedrock of Episcopal theology and understanding of church and spirituality, somewhere in the center with strong progressive leanings. The Episcopal Church has given me roots and a place to blossom.
But I resonate with the idea of being formed, and influenced by that formation, and the subsequent risk of being stunted in the confines of our reaction to that formation. I left a church I loved because it was stunting my growth and limiting my understanding and experience of God. I understand the risk of moving beyond, asking questions and searching, of living in ambiguity and uncertainty. Although I found my way back to church, in no way has this movement provided me with security. In many ways the questions have deepened, a chasm that lacks clarity. Of one thing I have become sure of, God is always present.
I say that even as I will admit that I often wonder if that is true. Ambiguous, right? I am certain of God’s presence and I wonder if it is true, often at the very same time. The certainty usually comes in hindsight. I live in wonder – where is God? How is God acting? What does God desire of me in this situation? Why do I feel so alone in this? I pray, and I tolerate the ambiguity – a point that Robin raised in her comment on my reflection yesterday – “The most important quality for a leader is the ability to tolerate ambiguity. I would say that that’s especially true of a leader in faith.” Exactly. Because in hindsight I am usually able to “see” how, where, why, when, God was stirring within and guiding me. Perhaps I trust that hindsight, or the potential of it? I trust the nudges, the tugs and pulls. Not at first, but after consideration. Or sometimes as an impulse…but usually after exploration, prayer, consideration.
The second chapter of this book is a compare and contrast of religion and spirituality. One thing I take issue with is her comparing rites with religion and not with spirituality. It may be that I find the rites to be spiritual because I was raised in a non-ritual, non-liturgical church. And as a result I find great meaning and potency in the rites and rituals of church. Which, of course, ties right into her statement about formation, becoming stunted, or growing. I am forever seeking ways to enliven our rites and rituals and draw out of them their spirit-filled potential. It is an area that gives me pleasure in my life as a priest, and one I hope inspires others as well.
I seek to trigger spiritual growth spurts within the very heart of church and religion.