A friend of mine died recently. Jeanne Audrey Powers was one of the first women ordained in the United Methodist Church. She worked for the General Conference in Manhattan and traveled the globe, hobnobbing with top religious leaders of every stripe. Just before she retired, she came out lesbian at an international conference, sending waves of dismay throughout the global church in hopes of leveraging transformation. She kept an apartment in Minneapolis and attended my church, which was how I came to work for a brief spell as her personal secretary. (more…)
A few years ago, I set off on a journey to the heart of Christian contemplation, both in practice and with studies. I began doing Centering Prayer, a form of meditation rooted in monasticism and the teachings of the mystics, and reading works from the mystical margins of Christian tradition—St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Theresa of Avila, Bonaventure, the Patristic fathers—and sharing all this with an international contemplative community. It’s been thrilling. The work transforms me from the inside out, and will have a profound on my writing, teaching, and living for years to come.
Because I love and trust language so much, the hardest part about these past years has been my inability to talk about what I’m learning. I put down a book or return from a symposium feeling like my internal furniture has been rearranged, but I can’t say how, or why, or what. I’m a blubbering fool. (more…)
“The Christian of the future will either be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or she will cease to be anything at all.” –Karl Rahner
Morality, ritual, and blind belief: contemporary Christianity is known for these. If you’re Christian, you adhere to certain moral standards (although these vary vastly between denominations and individuals); you go to church, and you “believe in Jesus Christ,” whatever that means. As best as I can tell, this is how Christianity is perceived by popular culture. For the most part, this is how Christianity is experienced by Christians.
Dig deep enough, however, and I suspect you’d find that many Christians have “experienced something.” For that matter, people of other faiths have, too, and those who calls themselves “spiritual but not religious.” As have artists, nature-lovers, scientists, community organizers, and anyone who volunteers their time to help others. You might call the “something” God or art or nature or love or truth, but regardless, you experience a mysterious happening that brings you alive and gives life meaning. You glimpse a source beyond the scope of human consciousness. You know a beauty that vibrates in your very cells. You sense significance that encompasses even tragedy, even rampant injustice, even death. (more…)
Over the past decade, my experience of church as a family of faith located in one community, one building, and one denomination, has shattered. My close association with a small urban United Methodist congregation for almost 25 years gave me a clear sense of identity and belonging. The rituals were familiar. The congregation was my gravitational center, the sun to my orbiting earth.
Contemplative prayer and my strong desire for silence have drawn me out of orbit, perhaps temporarily, perhaps not, and I’ve been grieving the loss. On a personal level church feels broken, and I’m painfully aware of the larger Church’s rapid decline. What’s happening to this institution I love?
Oddly enough, the loss has brought to mind the Jewish creation myth: At the beginning of time God’s presence filled the universe. (more…)
During a Sunday service my pastor asked the congregation for our images of God. What people shared—God as the sound of children laughing; God as prairie; God as executive assistant—filled me with hope. Holiness is abundant, emerging in and through creation, and can be encountered in the smallest of ordinary moments. I too have known God as the breadth of the Hudson River, its salt water pushing against the fresh water flow, its expanse my wide margin, its current my clear direction. I’ve known God in the indiscriminate attraction of my bisexual body. I’ve experienced God in the joy of a climate march and a Black Lives Matter protest and in a community’s story-telling at a beloved member’s funeral.
But had my pastor confronted me yesterday, had she held the microphone to my face and waited for me to muster up my courage, I would have said God is emptiness. I kneel these days before the God of nothing. (more…)
I can’t even write the words “blind faith” without my skin crawling. Despite forty-six years of attending church and more than half that time intentionally engaged in spiritual practices, enough of me is rational, academic, and post-modern that I’m unwilling to “blindly” do anything. Isn’t blind faith the purview of global warming deniers who believe humans were given dominion over the earth and the earth’s preservation is in God’s hands? Isn’t blind faith the stuff which sends terrorists careening airplanes into high rises? (more…)