Faith as experience...

"We yearn for a richer and deeper understanding of what it means to live as Christians," writes Dorothy Bass, "in a time when basic patterns of human relationships are changing all around us."  Many thoughtful people are wondering how to pass on both their deepest values and a vibrant faith to their children or grandchildren or loved ones.  There is an aching for compassion and spiritual vitality all around us and yet many of our religious institutions seem bankrupt.

Rob McCall writes in The Great Speckled Bird:

The organized religions of books, cities and churches are breaking down all around us... Look at the disintegration of the "Catholic" church with its accumulated wealth and perversion, impoverishing and debasing the faithful while enriching and indulging the hierarchy. Look at the mainline Protestant churches with their fleeing multitudes and lukewarm faith.  Look at the fundamentalists of all religions who are obsessed with fear and violence, desperately seeking the suicidal end of this world they so bitterly hate. All these organized religions are coming to an end.

To which Ralph Hientzman suggests that religion return to a commitment of nourishing reverence and awe ~ faith as an experience not a set of doctrinal truths ~ the way of the heart and soul to which Jesus often said, "THIS faith has made you whole."  Jesus is speaking of an openness to God's healing presence, a trusting heart and a humble soul rather than a creed or theological treatise. Hientzman writes in Rediscovering Reverence:
By experiencing awe in the presence of the sacred, human beings can draw upon its mysterious power to find the meaning and energy they need to both sustain their own lives and to make a difference in the world ~ to make even a different world.  (But he adds) it takes habits of reverent action to nourish this true inner spirituality.  (That is, faith as an experience is not accidental.)

My hunch is that this invitation to rediscover reverence ~ and the habits of reverent action - is one of the keys to our on-going renewal.  Two recent Facebook posting capture some of what is at stake in this shift.  The first comes from Parker Palmer who writes:

Last night I watched the documentary "Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man." It's about the singer-songwriter's life and work and interweaves clips of Cohen reflecting on his life with great performances by a variety of musicians who've been influenced by his work.  I've seen it three times and last night, as always, I was moved by almost every song. This time around, the song "Anthem" spoke to me with special power.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

I suspect I'm not the only person who needs those words!  Too often, I look at the world's big problems and say to myself, "I'd like to do something about that. But those problems are so big, and what I have to offer is so small and imperfect, there's really nothing I CAN do." Cohen's lyrics remind me that there's a particular kind of courage in the willingness to make one's small offering ~ saying, in effect, "I don't have much to give, but I give it gladly as a contribution to the common good."  When we have THAT kind of courage, we encourage one another.  And as more and more people make their small offerings, the cumulative effect can be something bit.

Call it the "potluck approach" to social change!  Or call it the power of community. Whatever you call it, it's one more way for the light to get in!

Oddly enough, we sang "Anthem" at my installation ceremony in our faith community just about five years ago this fall.  It may be time to sing it again ~ and again and again.  Lord knows we're very into the idea of literally holding community potlucks as a way of facilitating trust and learning the common good from the bottom up.

Another experiment we're going to try this week in worship is TRUE jazz liturgy - we're going to riff and improvise off our liturgical form - and invite everyone who gathers to tell us what songs we need to sing and what prayers we need to pray.  And I'm not going to write another sermon ~ I'll do my study and preparation, to be sure ~ but then we'll see where the Spirit of the Lord leads us.  My musical friend and colleague sent me this summary that rings so very true:

12 symptoms of a spiritual awakening…

1. An increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.

2. Frequent attacks of smiling.

3. Feelings of being connected with others and nature.

4. Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.

5. A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience.

6. An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.

7. A loss of ability to worry.

8. A loss of interest in conflict.

9. A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.

10. A loss of interest in judging others.

11. A loss of interest in judging self.

12. Gaining the ability to love without expecting anything in return.

And so a totally stunning autumn day comes to a close in the Berkshires and I give thanks to God.


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