Who knows where the time goes...

The old song, "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," by Sandy Denny of Strawbs/Fairport Convention fame, first came my way a la Judy Collins on her break-out album on the same name in 1968.  All the versions of this song - once voted the most popular folk-inspired tune on Radio BBC2 - are sweet, melancholic and moving.

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it's time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thought of time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

This song has been haunting me of late as I look backwards on my theological changes.  As noted earlier, I am reading a spiritual autobiography of a Russian Orthodox woman who comes to faith during the waning days of communism in the USSR.  And while I love the clarity and simplicity of her growing commitment, I find that I am repelled by the black and white theology of the monks with whom she explores her new Christianity. For while they are saturated in a radical spirituality of God's grace, they also hate the body and fear the world.  In fact, their phobia of sensuality is simultaneously frightening and repulsive to me.

Where did it happen that Christians came to hate the body so vehemently?  I know the words of St. Paul have long been interpreted in a dualistic way that favors the spirit over the flesh, but this is an immature and incomplete understanding of the apostle's theology.  And I know that the wisdom of Antioch and the Cappadocian fathers of the 4th century came to dominate and define the ever growing and offical state sponsored Christianity of both East and West.  What's more, I have come to see that my love of Henri Nouwen's treatment of the Desert Fathers and Mothers in The Way of the Heart is born more of Nouwen's generosity and sanitizing the ancients than their original intentions.

But I am continually stunned at how anti-incarnationalism dominates Christianity and remains in the 21st century when the tradition was born of the Word made Flesh.  How mean-spirited, humorless and actually unhealthy it can be, too.  Some examples might include the following:
+ Yesterday, the NY Times posted a story about the Vatican's concern that a local Roman Catholic church lets NY Governor Cuomo receive Eucharist even though he is divorced AND living (sometimes) with his unmarried lover.  "This amounts to public concubinage" a Vatican representative declared. (see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/23/nyregion/23vatican.html)

+ Our new copy of the arts and religion journal, IMAGE, came yesterday. I cherish the intellectual depth and artistic breadth Gregory Wolfe et al share in this beautiful quarterly periodical and find myself waiting in anticipation for each installment.  I have benefited, too, from both collections of his essays - The New Religious Humanists and Intruding Upon the Timeless - as they carefully go beyond the culture wars of the US to explore truth, goodness and beauty.  But I found the opening essay in this IMAGE not only mildly patronizing towards those who call themselves "spiritual but not religious" (something I wrestle with and challenge, too) but also insensitive to the wounds the anti-incarnational institutional church has inflicted upon many of us over the ages. 

To be sure, Wolfe acknowledges that many in our culture associate the word religious with "fanaticism, irrationality, intolerance and close-mindedness" while the word spirituality suggests "something more detached, thoughtful, tolerant and open."  And his insight that "spirituality" is too often a disguised or even deceitful addiction to the consumerist mentality that spiritual people often criticize rings true to me.  After all, I just wrote about how being a part of the community of faith is an absolute necessity for encountering the blessings of Christ.  (Not, however, the only place blessings take place, I should add; just the foundation upon which the presence of Jesus is experienced.)  Still, his critique hints of an either/or vision of the world - and his commitment to a tradition that is SO fearful and harmful to the sensual troubles me.  

Wolfe is right to state, "I am suspicious of spirituality as something ethereal, exotic and otherworldly - something found elsewhere."  But his vaguely arrogant insistence that the institutional  church in its 21st century manifestation is the healthiest alternative, no longer rings true to me.  Rather, I sense the spirituality critique cuts much deeper than he is able to admit.  (Read more of Wolfe's insights and essays @ http://www.gregorywolfe.com/index.html or http://imagejournal.org/)

 + And then there was my recent time with colleagues in an emerging group of prayer, encouragement and accountability.  All was good until someone suggested that part of our time together might include "case studies."  Oh crap, I thought, I don't need another overly clinical and/or professional group to take up my time.  No, what my soul needs is something more profound.  So I said, "You know, I just can't do any more case studies.  I know they have value and have their place in CPE, etc.  But at this point in my life and ministry what I need is more time at the Lord's feast rather than the academy's chalk board."  Which set in motion a fascinating little conversation about breaking bread, sharing tea and hospitality that made my heart sing.

I guess what I am trying to say is that over the years I have really left behind a spirituality that rejects and fears the sensual.  Last night at our jazz gig, my heart was on fire when children - and then adults - got up to dance.  Dancing is embodied prayer in my new theological lexicon.  And when someone said, "There are a LOT of church people in the crowd (as there have been our last 3 gigs and I am seriously grateful, too) and they are GREAT!"  I smiled.  And when 10 year old Ethan got up to do his thing on "Steam Roller Blues" - which brought the house down - I said out loud:  "That's what happens when you come to our church."  Like King David, you shake your booty in prayer.  You don't fear or hate your body.  You understand that there is more to be learned in joy that suffering.  And you find that you are always on the lookout for the Lord's often hidden feast.

Who knows where the time goes...?  All I know is that over the years my spirituality has become a whole lot more incarnational - and like St. James Brown the Broken Soul Man of Augusta, GA said:  Poppa's got a BRAND new bag and... I feel good!


SGF said…
Love this post and yes time is fascinating when we stop and glance back. I started a twitter account recently and Thomas Moore teeted this... "The purpose of art is not entertainment but to discover the dreams that live through you every day."
Maybe this connects to your comments about religion, spirituality and sensuality.
RJ said…
I think so... thanks.
RJ said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Black Pete said…
I found both gold and dross in IMAGE--maybe I subscribed at a time when every issue contained some lengthy diatribe against Hollywood, but it got tedious. And yet, some articles were so tremendous (and even so in retrospect) that I dared to copy them before handing the issue off to a friend.

Thanks for this, James.

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