Improvising and reflecting...

I was supposed to head off for New Haven, CT this morning to be with a seminary student as she ponders the halfway point in her time at Yale Divinity School, but the weather is sleeting and raining ice so... I'm sticking close to home. I will miss this valuable time - and look forward to another opportunity - but life is too short to risk nasty roads on a day like today. That said, two early morning reflections are worth sharing - especially as they build upon my message during Sunday worship. The first, from Fr. Richard Rohr, explores a "spirituality of subtraction" born of the insights of Meister Eckhart. He writes:
The notion of a spirituality of subtraction comes from Meister Eckhart (c.1260 -1327), the medieval Dominican mystic. He said the spiritual life has much more to do with subtraction than it does with addition. Yet I think most Christians today are involved in great part in a spirituality of addition.
The capitalist worldview is the only world most of us have ever known. We see reality, experiences, events, other people, and things—in fact, everything—as objects for our personal consumption. Even religion, Scripture, sacraments, worship services, and meritorious deeds become ways to advance ourselves—not necessarily ways to love God or neighbor.
The nature of the capitalist mind is that things (and often people!) are there for me. Finally, even God becomes an object for my consumption. Religion looks good on my resume, and anything deemed “spiritual” is a check on my private worthiness list. Some call it spiritual consumerism. It is not the Gospel.
This was, in essence, the second point  of yesterday's message as we spoke about living as the Body of Christ for our time.  Based upon St. Paul's metaphor of the body I first reminded folk that church is NOT about being a collection of individuals; it is about finding our part in a body.  It is a shared spirituality that we grasp and appreciate only with time and participation.  Then, I suggested that living in a culture like our own, we often come into church as spiritual consumers thinking primarily about "our own needs and feelings."  In fact, more often than not, our pain and wounds are considered so unique (which is rarely true) that we treat the faith community like a spiritual salad bar - picking and choosing whatever our feelings demand - without letting go of our addiction to self.
The sad fact of this consumerist spirituality is, however, the antithesis of the gospel for it turns "religion, Scripture, sacraments, worship and deeds of compassion" into ways of advancing ourselves rather than ways to love God and neighbor.  "The nature of the capitalist mind is that things (and often people!) are there for me (so that) finally, even God becomes an object for my consumption"  That's a hard word - but so liberating - and essential for rebuilding Christ's church in our generation.
My other morning reading hails from William Green at the United Church of Christ in the USA.  He observes that an obsession with our feelings is not the best way to encounter or know the Living God made flesh in Jesus.  Rather, he says, that it is only through being with others that the heart of God is revealed.
It's hard to live with loss. I may have hope and faith, but compared to losing a job, or my health, or someone I love, these are a stretch. God becomes remote. I find it helpful to remember that what's become remote is not God, but me. I've been knocked off balance, sucker punched, broken in body or spirit. All I can see or think of is myself, what's instantly at hand and roiling inside me.

It's the support of others that begins to get me on my feet and make me able to move again, a step at a time. That's God enough for me, since it can be hard to pray alone and experience God's support. I've come to believe that God is not known primarily in terms of my own feelings. My faith comes alive in the give-and-take of the feelings, concerns, and prayers of others, including those at church. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst."

I don't believe God ever wants us to be broken and running on empty. I also believe, as one writer put it, that God's power can only enter where there is a void to receive it — and we no longer try to fill it by ourselves. 
So, rather than take a road trip today, I am going to improvise and see what ways I can be connected to the Body.


Black Pete said…
Very good stuff, James. In Canada, we are a bit luckier: over the last 5 or 6 decades, going to church for personal advancement has pretty much disappeared, certainly in the mainline churches. Christianity is not a part of our culture any longer. So those who are at church are there because they want to be, and that's not a bad thing.

In the US, as studies have demonstrated, there is still a confusion on many people's part between being American and being Christian, as though they are synonymous--and as you know, they are not. As long as this confusion reigns, people will look at their religiosity in competitive terms, as means for advancement.
RJ said…
Thanks, Peter. Maybe that is one of the reasons I resonate so with Canada!
Philomena Ewing said…
Fine post James. As you know I am also a fan of Rohr. One of the things I think Rohr hits on is that we lack humility and there is a strong narcissistic streak in much of what we ask God for. Even if the association between church going and advancement in society has thankfully gone there is also a huge danger of self satisfying inner elevation in the practice of faiththat I see in a lot of people these days. There is also a vast and worrying profit machine exploiting people's thirst and need for spiritual direction. Have you seen the costs of some of these seminars and retreats online as well as offline that no poor person could ever hope to afford? In darker mood I sometimes wonder if many of these are self serving mechanisms. A lot of people can vaunt these things now as badges of higher achievement in the spiritual ladder of success. I find it sickening.
RJ said…
I know exactly what you speak of, Philomena: the self-centered, consumerist approach is so rampant that even our connection with the Sacred is more about possession than it is either surrender or service. And the "spirituality" industry that caters to the wealthy... OMG! Thanks for these insights.

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