Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reclaiming our symbols...

Today, as we sang the Wailin' Jennys' song, "One Voice," in church, I was struck with an awareness of how undernourished our collective soul is when it comes to feeding our deepest needs. Gertrud Mueller-Nelson writes: "Without a way to consciously feed and express our naturally religious nature, we create a vacuum - a void - which is quickly filled in with its unconscious counterpart. Our religious hunger is not passing away; rather, our loss of nurturance only makes us more aware..." that we are hungry for meaning, fulfillment and wholeness. (To Dance with God, p, 12)

Like Jung before her, Mueller-Nelson reminds me that nature abhors a vacuum and that without a conscious way of feeding our soul, we become obsessed with "low grade religious experiences which bedevil and taunt." For example: Instead of having ritual ways to meet the awesome, we are overawed by our ritual habits, our fears and symptoms. In place of the periodic, holy fast, we have become slaves to our perennial diets. In exchange for "carrying our cross" in the constructive suffering that every life requires, we complain of low back pain. The old taboos - which we think we are freed of - crop up as new varieties of superstitious and we take another vitamin.

The neurotic is religious material done unconsciously. Compulsive behaviors are the rites and ceremonies of the unconscious which have taken control of our nature. Symptoms and compulsions are the symbolic language of the soul begging to be translated out into consciousness - asking to be heard and enacted on the correct level. Neurosis is the modern parody of religion and the consequence of our lost orientation to the sacred.

Today's song brought her words back to mind because when I asked the congregation to reflect on what they had experienced and discerned from this beautiful and haunting tune - that adds layer upon layer to suggest the cost and joy of discipleship - at first they were speechless. They looked perplexed: "what do you mean describe what we discerned about becoming the body of Christ through a song?" said their eyes.

So I had to tease a response out of these gentle souls until eventually someone"noticed" (as the spiritual directors say) how each verse brought in a new harmony that was carefully woven into the fabric of the melody that simultaneously strengthened the entire song while giving it new depth and nuance, too. "It was like a tapestry" someone else said. Not a performance, however, or an incidental or entertainment, but a way of practicing and even experiencing the promise and responsibility of choosing to be part of the body of Christ. Each part built upon the next carefully and tenderly...

Paul is precise when he speaks of the church as a body in Romans: We are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn't amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't.

One of the on-going challenges many of us face doing ministries of renewal seems to involve reclaiming ways to nourish our souls in community. It would seem that ministry - and music and visitation and acts of compassion and deep prayer - have been so professionalized and privatized for so long that many folks have forgotten that the church IS NOT a place where the minister ministers and the congregation congregates. That is a spectator sport. Rather, what the living body of Christ does is far more engaging and fun: we share the fullness of real life together. And so we have to reclaim singing - and visiting - and prayer and all the rest in an intentional way if we want to feed our souls in a healthy way.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live. (Isaiah 55: 2-3) The words of one of my dearest hymns comes to mind, too:
Won't you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.
We are pilgrims on a journey, we are travelers on the road,
We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ light for you in the shadow of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh I'll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow till we've seen this journey through.

Somebody who is helping feed our collective soul in popular culture is Sarah McLachlan: she helps give shape and form to that spiritual hunger that so many have lost touch of but ache to have satisfied.

"Beauty," observes Buechner, "is to the spirit what food is to the flesh...unlike food, however, it is something you never get your fill of. It leaves you always aching with longing not so much for more of the same as for whatever it is, deep within and far yeond both it and yourself, that makes it beautiful. The beauty of holiness is how the Psalms name it (Psalm 29:2) and as 'the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee' (PSalm 42) is the way they describe the ache and the longing." (Whistling in the Dark, p.21) I think he's on to something...


Luke said...

let's go build a mystery! and explore it!

"what the living body of Christ does is far more engaging and fun: we share the fullness of real life together."

awesome. well put.

RJ said...

do you know that great song from "Smoke Signals," a million miles away? you would love it... thanks for your support. be well.

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