The extraordinary within the ordinary...

One of the complications of living into a spirituality where "everything belongs" - a way of being that consciously refuses to divide creation into holy and human/us and them/sacred and secular divisions - involves integrating and balancing our public and private lives. To be sure, they are connected - I suspect that anything less would be almost schizophrenic - and yet they possess rhythms, boundaries and needs that are highly distinct.

In worship, for example, I need both silence and stimulation - solitude and community - a chance to raise my voice in song and prayer to the One who is Holy and the opportunity to wrestle with and reflect upon my immediate experiences. Further, I yearn for a taste of that which is beyond my comprehension as well as the assurance of God's grace in the flesh. I desire a safe place to expose my doubts and fears, an honest place of radical hospitality and humility and an open place that transcends fundamentalism of any hue. In a word, a holy/human place that will receive my tears and laughter as well as my gifts and wounds with equanimity.

This implies, of course, that worship not be seen as a privatized commodity where spiritual consumers seek only a soul cleansing. That this seems to be the dominant definition of church in the early 21st century makes this quest all the more difficult as this ancient Sufi story illustrates: One went to the door of the Beloved and knocked. A voice answered: "Who is there?" She replied, "It is I." And the voice said, "There is no room here for me and thee." So the door remained shut. After a year of solitude and reflection, however, this same woman returned to the door of the Beloved and knocked. A voice from within asked: "Who is there?" And the woman answered, "It is You." And the door was immediately unlocked and opened...
Ed Hays, Secular Sanctity, Paulist Press: New York, 1980

In other words, I have my work to do before worship can touch me where I most need to experience God's grace. Back in Cleveland, I became a part of a small, inter-racial Eucharistic community following the spiritual insights of Charles de Foucoult. Every Thursday night about 40 people gathered for Holy Communion in the parlor of the Oasis House - a home converted into a retreat center directly opposite the King/Kennedy housing projects.

I loved the priest who was the spiritual mentor - he became my spiritual director - and I cherished the work of the community as they restored safety and beauty to the blighted ghetto one street at a time. Working with Habitat for Humanity, local gardening groups and city developers there were urban gardens all over the neighborhood in addition to well cared for homes and playgrounds. And I cherished making retreats in the Oasis Room where I could take 36 hours for prayer and rest once every month. It was manna in the desert...
... what used to drive me crazy was the music for the liturgy: I LOVE good music and there was no plan or focus to what was sung at Thursday night Eucharist. In fact, it sounded a lot like what I imagined Marat/Sade to be like - and it used to piss me off! (Such a musical snob!)

One day, however, one of my new friends at the community said to me after I moaned and groaned about the music: "You know, this isn't really about you and your aesthetics. Why don't you just go and receive what is there instead of complaining about what is missing?" His words have made all the difference in the world; now, in addition to whatever commitments, insights and wrestlings I bring to worship, I am learning that there are already blessings to be embraced if I can be still enough to receive and experience them. What's more, in that setting I was empowered to offer my musical gifts to the community - not as an expert - but just as another guy in the band - and we had a ball.

Authentic worship helped me integrate my public and personal life in a way that honored both without diminishing either. I sense that this is one of the blessings of this era that we can make more explicit. In The Art of Celebration: 20th Century Painting, Literature, Sculpture, Photography and Jazz, Alfred Appel, Jr. observes that there has been a clear movement towards integration and wholeness in our generation. What was once "primitive" and rural has now been embraced by the sophisticated city, what was once abstract is now used to help us discern our deepest truths, what was once the realm of the purely holy has now become the fount of human creativity to say nothing of the blurred lines between popular and high culture. In a brilliant interpretive insight, Appel writes:

The polarities of modernism - and one might say of human temperament - are defined by the spectacle of Gregor Samsa in his bed at the outset of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, transformed into a dung beetle, and by the voice of voluptuous Molly Bloom in her bed in the last chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses, where, during her unpunctuated, forty-five page interior monologue, she says YES eighty-seven times, in a subtle orchestration of the word that rises to a famous crescendo.

I rather like the way Dave Matthews puts it in his reworking of "In My Life." Everything belongs...


CREDITS: Incarnation @ www.missionalchurchnetwork.com/.../; Yin and Yang @ www.slowleadership.org/.../ ; Interfaith @ www.bahai.us/interfaith; Jazz @ www.songsofdavid.com/CJANewMembersAnnouncemen...)

Comments

SGF said…
This post has such clarity and understanding for me! Thanks for having the courage to be open minded and for being able to disclose in away that shines a light for others who desire to see!
RJ said…
Thanks, brother. Maybe by the time I retire I'll even be able to clearly articulate some of these ideas to others! I really appreciate you reading and being my friend.

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