Thursday, February 8, 2018

a quest for tenderness...

When friends and loved ones ask, "So what are you going to do now?" - meaning what are my plans for retirement from pastoral ministry - I have two answers. One is direct and hails from the music of Todd Rundgren who wisely proclaims: "I don't wanna work, I just wanna bang on my drum all day!" More often than not, after I sing a few bars of this, the questions stop.

But for those who want to go deeper, and some do, there is a second reply: "Mostly I want to be quiet and listen for the still speaking, but ever so quiet voice of the Lord prompting me towards Jesus." Some really stop asking when I say this, while a few continue, "Can you say more?" To date I have discerned five, interrelated parts of this prompting:  1) Devoting time to our grandchildren and their precious families; 2) Going deeper into the L'Arche Ottawa community; 3) Creating and performing new music with trusted and beloved friends; 4) Supporting Di in her calling as ESL teacher; and 5) Researching, honoring and writing about a spirituality of tenderness. My emerging summary of this new calling is: music, little ones, laughter and contemplation.

Everywhere I turn I hear a cry for tenderness. Mother Earth groans, strangers shriek, fear has infected families to such a degree that many can no longer share supper together without shouting. The wounds of our broken sexuality are rising to the surface as righteous wailing calls justice to roll down on predators like an ever flowing stream. And people of color refuse to be silenced in their march towards equality. Our tyrants, personal and political, still rant in pursuit of "divide and conquer." Yet all of this anguish is really nourishment in our quest for a shared tenderness: it is a 21st century encounter with the Via Negativa - a spirituality defined more by what is absent than realized - writ large. The late Henri Nouwen once wrote: 

Gentleness is a virtue hard to find in a society that admires toughness and roughness. We are encouraged to get things done and to get them done fast, even when people get hurt in the process. Success, accomplishment, and productivity count. But the cost is high. There is no place for gentleness in such a milieu. Gentle is the one who does "not break the crushed reed, or snuff the faltering wick" (Matthew 12:20). Gentle is the one who is attentive to the strengths and weaknesses of the other and enjoys being together more than accomplishing something. A gentle person treads lightly, listens carefully, looks tenderly, and touches with reverence. A gentle person knows that true growth requires nurture, not force.

My contemplative research, prayer and writing all suggest that the path of gentleness - a spirituality of tenderness - offers a quiet alternative to the status quo. And as Richard Rohr notes: "It was not bad people who killed Jesus."

(It was) conventional wisdom crucified him. Jesus taught an alternative wisdom instead of the maintenance of social order. Prophets and wisdom teachers like Jesus have passed through a major death to their ego. This is the core meaning of transformation. Yet most of Christian history tried to understand Jesus inside the earlier stage of (the status quo.) Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is anything but maintaining the status quo! Theologian Marcus Borg (1942-2015) wrote:

The gospel of Jesus—the good news of Jesus’ own message—is that there is a way of being that moves beyond both secular and religious conventional wisdom. The path of transformation of which Jesus spoke leads from a life of requirements and measuring up (whether to culture or to God) to a life of relationship with God. It leads from a life of anxiety to a life of peace and trust. It leads from the bondage of self-preoccupation to the freedom of self-forgetfulness. It leads from life centered in culture to life centered in God. [1]

This is the path of what some have called mysticism. Jean Vanier speaks of it as a change of heart born from an authentic and profound experience of Jesus. So bring on the music, the little ones, the laughter and contemplation. I am so ready!

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