Why do I still go to church?

The other night we had friends over for dinner. A bit of a disagreement or difference of opinion erupted, mostly because of my reaction to what one of our guests put forth. I fear I came across badly, but my reaction told me a lot about myself. The friend was so in awe of The Eucharist — which he proceeded to proclaim in the most magical terms of changes to physical blood and flesh. This is sort of description of The Eucharist that a) creeps me out, b) makes me angry because of what I perceive as a juvenile magic trick mentality and c) just seems so foreign to what I understand Jesus to have meant when he instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

I have to do some deep searching within myself to find a better way to respond. Displaying the anger and the snark are not particularly helpful, even if they do reveal to me some strong emotions that I usually keep packed away. It’s sort of the “Why don’t you tell me how you really feel?” approach.

I’m thinking that I react so badly because others with this mentality have in the past called me heretic and tried to restructure my [malformed] conscience. I must remember that the blessing in those attempts was that I dug deep into my faith and found another dimension that was previously hidden. I searched for the meaning of the Cosmic Christ. I always come back to the reality that the Eucharistic mystery is a lot of why I am RC instead of being a part of another Christian communion. The magical approach, to me, obscures the absolute Wow factor that the Creator (God) chose to become one of us and show us that we are not alone, that we are loved beyond measure and that all of creation (bread, wine, animals, trees, rocks and volcanoes) are a part of this. I think to the words “Fruit of the field and work of human hands” — we work with God/Jesus/Spirit to create the elements that bring the reality of Love to our lives and give us a way to say “THANK YOU!”

Christmas is ongoing – day 7 now – and I am still reeling from a Christmas revelation that if we as Christians truly believe that God loves us so much that He chose to be one of us we would light the world on fire in a good way. If we accepted that it was done with the cooperation of a young woman/girl and a trusting spouse we would see that we MUST cooperate. We must trust. We can’t judge from the outside. We must love the out-of-wedlock mother, the immigrant fleeing to find safety, the smelly shepherds and the kings/wise men in our midst and on our borders. And, we say “thank you” when we receive the fruit of the vine and work of human hands.

 

Arts and Crafts

Art: listening and entering into a place where the muse (or the Holy Spirit) can speak to me with a vision that needs to be passed on, or at least given form be it in color, dance, music or some other manifestation

Craft:  the means by which art is brought to life; the techniques and knowledge of how to “make it so””

I work at Craft. I work at technique, or programming, or color palette, or efficiency. But, it is hollow when I don’t seem to be able to hear The Voice, or my voice. And that is frustrating to me. I come closer to this in music and dance than in those things that I work at. I’m an ok singer, and ok guitarist, and ok (maybe not even ok) dancer. But, those actions are almost always where I go beyond and tap into something bigger. In some ways this blog is way to give voice to those stirrings of creativity I sometimes experience. I could spend more time on the craft of writing, but then I’m not sure that’s the point.

Maybe in the new year of 2020 I can take the time to get in touch, to enter through the eye of the needle and find the great beyond that needs expression. Letting go is not easy. But, maybe that’s just what I need to do.

 

Perennial Wisdom

As I press on my journey, I find myself caught between not fitting comfortably into a given tradition and feeling connected to many traditions. My path seems to be as a Christian, carrying the backpack with a brand name of  Roman Catholic. The road is a winding one with hills and valleys, paved road and pig trail, desert, jungle and old growth forest. Just as with the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, there are many “ways” which have many origination points. The path is marked with yellow arrows. Funny though — those arrows can be found in all sorts of places: on a tree, a sidewalk, a rock, the side of a building. Sometimes you miss one and get lost. Then, you find your way back to the last arrow you saw, or maybe the one you missed, and set off again carrying the experiences of the time lost with you. They all lead to Santiago de Compostela. And some pilgrims continue on to Finisterre and Muxia to see “the end of the world.”

On this Way, you often leave things behind as they become unnecessary to your journey. Maybe you find and pick up something discarded by another pilgrim that fills a need. You become a part of the journey itself.

I get a daily reflection from the Center for Active Contemplation (CAC — Richard Rohr). The above thoughts were brought to light after reading today’s reflection which included the following which came out of several meetings of people from different religious traditions:

The Snowmass Conference Eight Points of Agreement came into being. We include them here as a way of sharing a contemporary expression of perennial wisdom arising not from ancient texts but from the lived experience of contemporary mystics—women and men who, while coming from specific traditions, dare to step beyond them to see what is on its own terms.

The Eight Points of Agreement

  1. The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate Reality, to which they give various names.
  2. Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.
  3. Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization.
  4. Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system.
  5. The potential for human wholeness—or, in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transcendence, transformation, blessedness—is present in every human being.
  6. Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service to others.
  7. As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.
  8. Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one’s own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness with Ultimate Reality. [2]

Lessons from odd places

I know I have a problem — I like to play versions of Angry Birds, Candy Crush and Words with Friends. I can get absorbed. I can use it to back off from the world (I’m a bit of an introvert and sometimes I do need to retreat).

That said, there are lessons to be learned from games. This morning’s “Aha!” is focus on the goal and let go of the unnecessary things — in games and in life. Were those 2 angry Red Birds that got left behind when all the bubbles tumbled down past an opened lock necessary to accomplish the goal? Uh — no, it turns out. But, I like using all of my special Red Birds (and Yellow Birds) and I didn’t get to make things explode with the 2 that got left behind! Let it go! They were distractions. Unnecessary to completing the goal.

And so with life. Sometimes I don’t want to give up my anger, my hurt, my sense of righteous indignation. I mean, that’s like letting the other guy win, right? Maybe not. Maybe it is necessary to leave these things on the table and walk away. Of course, I have to actually own the hurt, anger, frustration before I can actually lay it down and leave it on the table. I must admit that this person did indeed cause me a lot of pain and grief. I have to look at the present, and try not to let it be colored so intensely by the past. If he wants to converse with me now, and pretend it never happened, well — what am I losing by being present in the present and relaxing? I don’t forget exactly and I am cautious around him. But, not letting go (not forgiving) is really only hurting me it seems.

It’s hard to figure out sometimes why I hang on to some things: be they hurts or old tech, clothes that don’t fit or that I wouldn’t wear even if they did, photos that are out of focus and need to be deleted.  I just found a Garmin, an iPod mini and a Fitbit in a drawer. All dead as doornails.  Why do I keep them? I let negative reactions keep me from making contact with others. How are these things advancing me toward seeing/loving with God’s eyes? Hanging on to those clothes is a bit of hanging on to a past version of me.

Let it go!

 

Connections

Today’s “aha!”comes from a January reflection from CAC

…One of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings is “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39). But we almost always hear that wrong: “Love your neighbor as much as yourself.” (And of course, the next logical question then becomes, “But I have to love me first, don’t I, before I can love my neighbor?”) If you listen closely to Jesus however, there is no “as much as” in his admonition. It’s just “Love your neighbor as yourself”—as a continuation of your very own being. It’s a complete seeing that your neighbor is you. There are not two individuals out there, one seeking to better herself at the price of the other, or to extend charity to the other; there are simply two cells of the one great Life. Each of them is equally precious and necessary. And as these two cells flow into one another, experiencing that one Life from the inside, they discover that “laying down one’s life for another” is not a loss of one’s self but a vast expansion of it—because the indivisible reality of love is the only True Self.

Love my neighbor as myself — that is ultimate connection. Lately I’ve been dealing with some personal interactions that are making that goal extremely difficult. I don’t even want to think of this woman as my neighbor, much less to love her. She’s done her best to make my life miserable. And, she seems to have no regret, or even acknowledgment of the pain she has caused. This is going to be a tough one. After all she seems to be saying that it’s all my fault and even after I made a sincere apology she is still out for blood.

My first step is to spend at least a part of Lent praying for her. Even that is rather difficult. I know it is necessary, but not in any way easy.

 

The Comma: Being and Doing

I read the numbers and understand that so many of my generation, and even more of those who follow behind, no longer attend church or ascribe to a particular faith. I, myself, while still attending mass on a regular basis, find that I feel estranged in many ways from “church.” It’s not estranged from God/Jesus/Spirit, but from this whole organized church thing. I find much peace, strength and connection through yoga, and reflecting on daily emails from CAC (Richard Rohr’s daily reflections) and from a small group of women who meet weekly to share our walk through life.

There was a time when “church” was a center point in my life. I’ve learned much, loved much, grown much through Christian community. Ah! That might be it — What I can’t seem to find in church these days is Christian Community. Perhaps I have simply withdrawn.

Recent reflections from Richard Rohr have brought to my attention “the great comma” in the Apostle’s Creed. In the creed there one says “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.” That comma is Jesus’s life here on earth where he walked among people and showed the way. I’m far more interested in the comma than what comes before and after. The birth and death, to me are not nearly as useful to me as what came between. One can certainly state (and believe) the words of the Creed (Apostles and Nicene) but never be transformed by the example shown in the comma.

I think the Church and society would do well to dwell on the comma more that the phrases around it. For example, when I come to my yoga mat for a practice, the focus is not what faith or creed I might follow. The focus is on the present: how does this body feel, am I anxious, just be in this moment and see where I am. Be. Listen. A good instructor (with a small class) can give pointers on alignment without judgement about how bad you are for not being in the best alignment. Encouragement to shift a bit closer to the goal if your body allows. Oh — and acknowledgement that people are built differently and will not all shape up the same way. Wow! What if the church took that approach?

What if the Catholic Church changed its tune about Communion? Maybe viewing it as Food for the Journey that should be offered to all who desire it? A gentle touch to help one get into right alignment? A chance to be in the Presence of a great teacher who showed the Way instead of a reward for checking off all the boxes of belief and external behavior. Something to receive when one is lost, or unsure as well as thanksgiving for the gift it offers. Then, perhaps, there would be a place for healing and transformation and a new way of looking at the world.

As John Lennon might have said: “you say that I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one…”