Thursday, May 10, 2012

God Questions: Stunted Growth, a metaphor

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.


Sherry Peyton said...

Terri, this is such a powerful post. You are so right, as I see it. Faith is always about ambiguity and uncertainty. It is what drives us to grow in our faith. At least that is how it has worked for me. Though I returned to a church that I don't agree with on many theological issues, I find the spiritual nurturing somehow, and I continue to struggle with why I am there, rather than in a more comfortable atmosphere. For me, the comfort of the Episcopal church made me feel that I was becoming complacent in some sense. My church desperately needs reforming and I hope to bear witness to that need. Thanks for a great post. Blessings

Jan said...

I really appreciate you reminding of this book. It would go well with the one my church book club is currently reading by Diana Butler Bass--"Christianity After Religion." I keep sending on your posts to some dear friends, who may start reading your blog, though they don't often read mine.

Lisa :-] said...

Since you are a priest, it is only right that you see and experience spirituality in the rites of your faith. I, however, having been raised Catholic, can see your author's point. The rituals of the Catholic Church became stale and meaningless to me at a very young age. Saying the same words (that someone else had written) over and over did not represent spiritual communication to me; if I was going to communicate with God, I wanted it to come from ME, in my own words, with my own feelings. I understand and appreciate ritual more, now...but I still chafe at the limitations.

Robin said...

I "returned" to the church in my late 20s, which is to say that after junior and senior high years in religious boarding schools where I was well-educated in matters of faith without adopting any of them for myself, I re-discovered the possibility of a life of faith in the Methodist church. However, as I became more intensely interested, I found the church to be of less and less help. I was a leader in many venues, our children were regular participants, and I did three year-long Disciple Bible study classes, but I was utterly frustrated in trying to develop an interior spiritual life. I often say that if I had encountered the Jesuits and their Ignatian spirituality in my mid-30s, I would still be a Methodist and I would still be a practicing attorney. But I simply could not find answers to the questions I had -- those answers really began to unfold for me when I read Joan Chittister's Wisdom Distilled from the Daily and began to understand that it was indeed possible, as I had hoped, to find relationship with God in all things.

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...