Saturday, June 18, 2016

Reflections on church

Here's the short form; read on beyond for a longer explanation:

Reflecting on the language 
of the church of my childhood,
it seems we were trained to believe we were broken,
competing for God's conditional approval.
With time and experience I've come to believe
we were born into an infinite stream 
of unconditional love,
and called to carry that out to the world,
each in our own unique style.
I'm sad that our churches 
still so often mislead us that way...
As a young child, growing up in the Presbyterian Church, I was fascinated by the sermons, and decided at an early age that I wanted to become a minister. In those days, in that church, every sermon began with this prayer:

"May the words of our mouths,
and the meditations of our hearts,
be always acceptable in thy sight,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer"

Recently, at a retreat on Teilhard de Chardin, I found myself sitting at lunch with a delightful young man, an Episcopal priest, who proudly proclaimed that he had returned his congregation to the old prayerbook; that he loved the Elizabethan language.

"I love that language, too," I replied, "but how can you reconcile what you're doing and saying on Sunday with what we're learning here, in this place?  Don't you find that language jarring?"

He assumed I was objecting as a feminist, so the conversation got a bit off track at that point.  But what I was trying to say -- and the reason I now find it so difficult to attend the churches I once loved so much -- is that I find it impossible to reconcile the concept of God expressed in that language with what I now believe to be true.

Cynthia Bourgeault reminded us, at that retreat, that the word person comes from the Latin words per sonare, meaning to sound through. I read that definition again this morning in Richard Rohr's wonderful book on Franciscan theology, Eager to Love, and found myself thinking (having been caught in a weekend of drama and arguments where I've been trying to consistently sound a voice of reason) how important that is to me: to be a person who is sounded through; a channel through which the Divine voice of compassion and reason can be heard.

So of course that old prayer came to mind -- I sincerely want the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart... but then I came to a stop.  "Acceptable in thy sight" implies that God is somehow separate from me, an authority figure whose approval I crave, which is not what I'm thinking at all.  What I'm asking is that I be a clear channel so that what I say has truth and resonance; is not cluttered with my own egoic needs but comes rather from that deeper source within that is fed from the still deeper stream of wisdom and love to which we are all connected.  I don't want to "Look okay." I want to sound true, in the fullest sense of that phrase.

... and then there's that word "redeemer," as if I am somehow broken, unsalvageable except through divine interference.  And I don't believe that anymore either.  I don't think Christ was sent to save us (and folks, I get that some of you think this is heresy, but bear with me here) because we are terrible human beings.  I think Christ was sent to show us that we are ALL both human and divine, that EACH of us carries within us that essential goodness and wisdom that links us to the divine stream of wisdom that flows through all of creation.

It's okay if you don't believe that, too.  But I think if we continue to believe we need God's approval (which is conditional, and we're supposed to somehow know what those conditions are), and that we are broken and need to be redeemed, then, like children -- and especially siblings -- we'll always be competing for that approval, defining those conditions, and pointing our fingers at others claiming they're more broken than we are. 

That's never going to foster a sense of oneness with humanity: as long as we are separate from God then we'll continue to remain separate from each other, in competition for some limited dispensation of acceptance rather than sharing in God's infinite wealth of love.


Carol Dworkowski said...

I feel much more "in tune" with the theological perspectives of the Eastern than the Western Church(es):

In Orthodox theology, the two words “image” and “likeness” are not used interchangeably as they are for Roman Catholics and Protestants. For Orthodox Christians, “image” denotes the powers and faculties with which every human being is endowed by God from the first moment of his existence. “Likeness” is the assimilation, the growth process to God through virtue and grace. We call this growth process “theosis.” For Western theology, man was created perfect in the absolute sense and therefore, when he fell, he fell completely away from God. For Orthodox theology, man was created perfect in the potential sense.
--Fr. George Nicozisin

God is not the "judge" of men in the sense of a magistrate who passes sentence and imposes a punishment, testifying to the transgression. He is judge because of what He is: the possibility of life and true existence. When man voluntarily cuts himself off from this possibility of existence, he is automatically "judged". It is not God's sentence but His existence that judges him. God is nothing but an ontological fact of love and an outpouring of love: a fullness of good, an ecstasy of loving goodness ...Man is judged according to the measure of the life and existence from which he excludes himself. Sin is a self-inflicted condemnation and punishment which man freely chooses when he refuses to be as a personal hypostasis of communion with God and prefers to "alter" and disorder his existence, fragmenting his nature into individual entities - when he prefers corruption and death ...For the Church, sin is not a legal but an existential fact. It is not simply a transgression, but an active refusal on man's part to be what he truly is: the image and "glory", or manifestation, of God.
~ Christos Yannaras, The Freedom of Morality

Our purpose is not to condemn evil, but to correct it. With condemnation people can get lost, with understanding and assistance they will be saved.
Evil begins from bad thoughts.
When you are bitter and indignant, even just with your thoughts, you spoil a spiritual atmosphere. You prevent the Holy Spirit from acting and allow the devil to increase the evil.
You should always pray, love and forgive, driving out of yourself every evil thought.
~Elder Porphyrios of Kapsokalyva

God does not condemn us to Hell; God wishes all humans to be saved. He will love us to all eternity, but there will exist the possibility that we do not accept the love and do not respond to it. And the refusal to accept love, the refusal to respond to it, that precisely is the meaning of Hell. Hell is not a place where God puts us; it’s a place where we put ourselves. The doors of Hell, insofar as they have locks, have locks on the inside.
--Kallistos Ware

God's love is like a wind that is constantly blowing in one direction. For those that go with the wind, the love of God is supportive and very helpful. For those that fight against the wind, it then becomes wrathful. Eventually, those that fight against the wind will tire and stop fighting. When that happens the love of God picks them up and carries them along. That is when these folks feel the love of God as rapture.
~Anonymous Orthodox Priest

Doris said...

This image takes my breath away. So many of your images do. Your reflection (words) resonates with me today -- with what and whom I am reading. I am trying to catch up on scientific developments of the past 30 years and reconciling a new worldview with faith in God. Thank you for your genuine statements.