Ask what I’m learning in the Living School and I’ll blather incoherently, enthusiastically, and at great length about the Christian mystical tradition, the significance of contemplation, and a complete overhaul of my faith. I was doing just that at Easter dinner a few weeks ago. My father-in-law asked, and all eleven relatives at the table stared at me blankly while I answered. Afterward, my brother-in-law quipped, “You should say you’re studying an ancient wisdom tradition. Calling it ‘Christian’ just throws everybody off.” Well, yes. (more…)
Inveterate—confirmed, hardened, incorrigible, habitual, compulsive, obsessive: Yup, that describes me as a church-goer. I may lurk on the periphery, I may rail against the church’s (titanic) flaws, I may flinch every time I name myself a Christian, and yet I can’t help myself. Church has blessed me. So I show up.
Those of us who are inveterate church-goers are numb to scripture. We’ve heard the stories so much, our immediate reaction is, “Blah, blah, blah; same-old same-old.” A rare good sermon might shake us out of our complacency, helping us hear scriptural wisdom afresh or making it relevant. Every once in a while, a beam of sunlight breaks through the barriers of the text and lands, shockingly, on our bored hearts. Most of the time, for me at least, the Bible is flat, familiar, and, frankly, uninteresting. (more…)
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…)