A bright sadness...

This may sound like a rant to some, and perhaps it is knowing that our
shadows often obscure the truth from us. But it feels more like a lament. I will trust the wisdom of your replies even as I listen to the emptiness of my own heart, too. Simply put: I am done with working towards reform within the institutional church. It doesn't really matter whether I am talking about my once beloved United Church of Christ, my liturgical affection for the Anglicans or my love/hate relationship with Roman Catholicism. The time has come for me to say: not my circus, not my monkeys.

Don't get me wrong: I am not going into early retirement (yet) nor advocating a breach of covenant with those I love and respect in the local churches of my community. Not at all. My own small congregation continues to faithfully struggle to be the Body of Christ and I see that happening on the local scene all around me. Not so much with the wider church. So even as I give thanks to God that the Presbyterians have found a way to widen their loving embrace - they just officially collected enough votes to support full gender equality and marriage justice - and continue to rejoice in the ministry of Pope Francis I, it is time for me to step back from participating in the larger structures and let others take up the cause. 

From the vantage point of my journey in faith, caring for my denomination no longer matters to me. Some celebrate the United Church of Christ as a champion of progressive theology and radical social justice. I don't disagree. But these days it also strikes me as a bloated bureaucracy entrenched in irrelevancy and self-righteousness. On too many levels, the "wider church" maintains no meaningful connection with local congregations and precious little interest in developing them. Our official proclamations on social justice sound shrill and self-serving to me as they are so rarely born of grassroots organizing. We continue to practice a top-down, theological elitism that transcends race and gender. And we apparently have no interest in changing. Over the past few years I have heard myself saying: we like to eat our young, slander our servants and reward our hacks. That is too cynical - although true - and I hear both my grief and weariness speaking. I know that there are good and loving people all through the super-structure. So let me pray for them, but get out of the way, too.

Richard Rohr suggests that such impatience and frustration is normal and natural. As our faith journeys deepen, he writes, it used to be that you "could go off to the side (at this stage of life) and become a monk or a nun, but now even religious life suffers from the same institutionalization" that so wearies so many of us. What I am discovering - and finding words to describe - has much more to do with me than the institutional church. Yes, I am sad that so much of the work I have done over the past 30+ is over. I am already missing it. 

But such is the "bright sadness" of this stage of faith. It is time to let go of even more of the busyness of my life so that I might go deeper into the calling of my contemplative heart. Small wonder this sabbatical is saturated in music, prayer, poetry, rest and caring for my deepest loves, yes? Rohr writes:

Silence (is often) the only language spacious enough to include everything and is what keeps us from slipping back into dualistic judgments and divisive words. Poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mary Oliver, David Whyte, Denise Levertov, Naomi Shihab Nye, Rilke and T.S. Eliot now name your own inner experience... Mystics like Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux, Baal Shem Tov, Lady Julian of Norwich and Rabia will speak to you perhaps more than people from your own tradition ...Like Jesus, you may soon feel as though you have 'nowhere to lay your head,' while a whole set of new heads are now making sense to you! This is true politically, too. In fact, if your politics do not become more compassionate and inclusive, I doubt you are on the second half of the journey.

When I read Rohr's words in Falling Upward two nights ago, I actually laughed out loud. I had just finished reworking our Good Friday liturgy that conflates the words of Christ's passion narrative with the poetry of... Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, Robert Bly, T.S. Eliot, Denis Levertov and Allen Ginsberg. What's more, earlier this week I was rereading Wiesel's book on the Jewish mystics, Souls on Fire. I give thanks today for wise elders who are able to help aging mystics like me discern where we are in life's journey. There are seasons for engagement and seasons for solitude, yes? To everything turn, turn, turn...

Comments

Phil Ewing said…
Excellent post. I'm on the same part of this journey, RJ. Thanks for putting it so well ! Blessings
RJ said…
Thank you so much, Phil. I send love and blessings to your sweet home and heart.
ddl said…
quietly listening...a bright sadness, yes. And in agreement. I sometimes think that the reason why Jesus was silent was because he had said everything there was to say...and was still misunderstood. Enjoy your sabbatical...and may it be a precious rest and restoration for you and Di.
RJ said…
Thanks D - love and prayers

Popular Posts