Chilling out after holy week...

Today is pure chill-out: lots of rest, some time in the yard with the sun and gentle conversation.  There will be a long walk with the dog and a simple supper at the close of the day, too. But nothing rushed or demanding for today is pure chill-out.
Two ideas keep resurfacing as I savor the richness of Holy Week 2014. The first has to do with my call to "reclaim a childlike faith." This was the heart of my Easter message - holding on to the feet of Jesus with a childlike devotion to his love and grace - as Matthew's resurrection text describes both the Virgin Mary and Magdalene. The only thing they knew was to cast everything upon Jesus and trust that this was enough. I am struck by the purity and simplicity of such faith. What's more, I am simultaneously bored and wearied with the uber-sophisticated questions and parsing that so many of my contemporaries want to advance when it comes to Jesus. 

Don't get me wrong, I have no interest in spiritual stupidity, moral relativity or the religious intolerance bred of contemporary fundamentalism. So let me reclaim a term used by Frederich Schliermacher - the liberal theologian of the 18th century that both liberals and conservatives love to hate - I am speaking of the "cultured despisers of religion" who are certain that they are smarter and more useful than any of us embracing a "childlike faith and trust in Jesus." Without regurgitating the history of theological debate since 1799, let me suggest that I am celebrating what might be called the reintegration of "the way of the heart" back into "the way of the mind" that has become all too rarefied and elitist.

As many of my reflections and postings over the past few years have noted, our culture has lost touch with the ability to recognize and savor authentic awe. We are unable to synthesize the impact of art and culture upon our spiritual sensibilities. And we no longer have a language that integrates truth, goodness and beauty into theological categories.  As a book I was reading last night, The Indispensable Guide for Smaller Churches by David Ray, observes: without a meaningful theological grounding we remain confused about "what is essential" in life as well as perplexed about "its essential purpose." To paraphrase St. Anselm: theology is faith seeking understanding. And all too often contemporary theology not only denigrates the affective aspects of faith - the way of the heart - but idolizes intellectual constructs that strive for objectivity but all too often become abstract.

This morning, Fr. Richard Rohr spoke to this in his daily reflection:


The five positive messages of initiation, which I call “the common wonderful,” are a cosmic egg of meaning that will hold you, help you grow, and give you ongoing new birth and beginnings (i.e., resurrection). By cosmic egg, I mean your underlying worldview, your life matrix, and your energy field—that keeps you motivated each day. If it is true then it must be accessible from all directions, which is why I call it cosmic, and because it is life-giving, I call it an egg. It holds you together in a shell of meaning.

Our cosmic egg operates largely subliminally, but very powerfully. It is more caught than taught. I find these messages in Jesus’ teaching, but there are similar messages in all the great traditions, especially from the Islamic mystics, the Hasidic Jews, and the Hindu holy men and women. The first message of the common wonderful: It is true that life is hard, and it is also true, as Jesus said, that “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).

Enlightened people invariably describe the spiritual experience of God as restful, peaceful, delightful, and even ecstatic. Seek joy in God and peace within yourself; seek to rest in the good, the true, and the beautiful. It will be the only resting place that will also allow you to hear and bear the darkness. Hard and soft, difficult and easy, pain and ecstasy do not eliminate one another, but actually allow each other. They bow back and forth like dancers, although it is harder to bow to pain and to failure. You can bear the hardness of life and see through failure if your soul is resting in a wonderful and comforting sweetness and softness. Religious people would call this living in God.

This spirituality is grounded in honoring paradox. It also celebrates the way of the heart without trashing the way of the mind. It is apophatic AND kataphatic which strikes me as a truly "childlike" way of being faithful. As one man from my church wrote to me last night:  "Here is a prayer that popped into my head during Easter worship. 'Lord, as you have risen today may your love and goodness rise in me everyday. Amen." Damn, but that is brilliant - it is just like the two Marys laying upon the ground in awe while reaching out to hold on to Jesus as the only truth big enough to offer them grace and hope. I am going to be playing with this "childlike" calling a LOT over the next seven weeks.

The second thing that has been swimming around inside me as a consequence of Holy Week is how profoundly our Good Friday theme - MISUNDERSTOOD - resonated with those who joined us.  There are so many layers to this notion that I think we've only scratched the surface. What's more, I am more clear than ever that we've stumbled on to a powerful way of helping people do deeper into their own questions with this type of liturgical art/concert. The music is just one aspect, albeit essential, but so too with the silence and the movements. 

Is it fair to say that for those outside our traditional religious categories, the old liturgies don't work? Not that they are bad - I loved being in the midst of candles, darkness, chanting and incense during the Easter Vigil - it fed my soul. But so many people spoke to me of the intensity of their emotional and intellectual journey during MISUNDERSTANDING - it gave them permission and the tools to go deeper - that I want to push this truth in ways that touch more lives.  As our culture loses connection to the ways of awe, we have a unique opportunity to reawaken the soul to the importance of embracing truth, beauty and goodness both within ourselves and as part of our commitment to the common good.

I like the way Leonard Kass puts it in his essay, "What's Wrong with Babel?"

Given that the human beings want the city (of Babel) but God does not, our first impulse is to think that the answer depends on knowing God;s reasons or seeing things from His point of view. Of this, all that we know is contained in God's remarks, no doubt uttered with a negative judgment, "Now nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do." God, it seems, sees the likely success of the project, but doesn't approve it. He does not approve of the prospect of unrestrained human powers, exercised in support of unlimited imagining and desires. More generally, God may not like the absence of reverence, the vaunt of pride, the trust in technique, the quest for material power, the aspiration for self-sufficiency, the desire to reach into heaven - in short, the implied wish to be as gods...

... the project for mastery and unity begins by presupposing a partial estrangement of human beings from the world, which it hopes to overcome. Yet, in the end the project for mastery - that is, if successful - means the complete and permanent estrangement from what is real. Ironically, the proposed remedy makes the disease total and totally incurable. The self-sufficient and independent city of man means full estrangement and spiritual death for all its inhabitants. (Kass, The New Religious Humanists, pp. 62/76)

If I learned and experienced ANYTHING over Holy Week 2014 it was this: like Joni Mitchell once sang "we are golden, we are stardust..." and in our brokenness we ache "to get back to the garden." (I love Eva's cover...)

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