Saturday, February 17, 2018

horizontal spirituality...

Spiritual direction comes into my life these days in the most unplanned manner. Yesterday, visiting with a friend of wise heart and deep sensitivity, we were talking about our respective journeys toward the holy. As I was rambling on, she paused and smiled, saying, "Listen..." The house sound system was playing the Stones singing, "you can't always get what you want... but if you try sometime you just mind find: you get what you need!"



With pathos and verve, she introduced me to the practice of discerning our "soul curriculum." Isn't that perfect? A sacred path towards deeper integrity and tenderness shaped by the ordinary experiences of everyday life. It is spirituality beyond dogma, a path into wholeness without doctrine. My mind immediately went to Dorothee Soelle's book, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. And Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation as well as the prayers of the late Ed Hays, Pray All Ways: A Book for Daily Worship Using All Your Senses. But I think the practice of soul curriculum cuts deeper. It certainly sounds earthier to my ears. And as I start to let go of being "on" - the contemplative intellectual pastor whose job is to be present for others - this new/old way of befriending creativity, compassion and the counter-cultural calling of the holy in the midst of my humanity resonates deeply.  

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.


One of the maturing commitments that continues to take root in my heart is what I am starting to speak of as a horizontal spirituality. In previous posts I noted the way Taize worship in Montreal awakened my heart to the "geography" of worship: with everyone who could be seated upon the floor ( and there were provisions for those who could not), there was no hierarchy in worship. There were song leaders who gave shape and form to our shared music. But there was also abundant silence. Neither sound nor stillness dominated; it was always both/and together. I left worship that night feeling stiff but grounded in a new experience of the holy. 

Author Diana Butler Bass has written about horizontal spirituality like this:

After 9/11, I began to notice that at times of great social crisis people were not necessarily asking, “Why did God allow this to happen to us?” Instead they would ask, “Where is God?” And the fascinating thing is, people would almost invariably say the same thing — that God was present with the suffering. And that is so different, historically, than the way in which Americans talked about God over the last few generations. We had always asked questions of the intentions of god, not the location of god.

But Western culture has organized its religious, political, economic life in what I call a set of vertical relations, where the richest and most powerful people are on top and the poorest and people without any power are on the bottom. There’s an echoing of the idea of a god in heaven with the idea of the richest, the holiest, the most powerful people being at the top, closest to god. That whole vertical structure is changing. It’s a dramatic time, because we all know that that can’t be sustained any longer. There’s a flattening of culture and of economic systems. Our institutions are caught in the middle of that same fight. It’s happening within every denomination.


Small wonder that for almost three years this encounter has informed my journey. It helped me discern why I was being called out of pastoral ministry. It gave me a clue about what God may have in store for me next. And it clearly guided me to my emerging connection with L'Arche Ottawa. Horizontal spirituality - along with tenderness, table fellowship and some more wandering in the wilderness - is part of my soul's curriculum. So, tomorrow we leave for a few more days at L'Arche Ottawa. Deep continues to call to deep within - and I am trying to listen.

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