Thursday, August 15, 2013

What a long strange trip it has been...

From time to time I forget: I live in the heart of Yankee Congregationalism. Not that this form of religiosity is normative any longer - it hasn't been for many generations - for the dominant religious group is SBNR (those who self-identify as spiritual but not religious.)  Still perception is often reality and those who once were at the top of the heap sometimes forget that the world has changed profoundly since 1955.

Throughout much of contemporary Protestantism since 1980, there has been a growing interest in the mystical aspects of our Christian tradition. I remember writing in my doctoral work that after the activism of the 60s crashed and burned, many turned to the monastics for a more balanced and nuanced spirituality. Read both Dakota and the Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris and her experience was writ large by many: we needed a connection with the sacred that was both bigger than our limited experiences and more gracious than the head-driven liturgies of the Reformed realm. We needed mystery as well as beauty in our lives, theology that was simultaneously true and greater than either the self-help groups or trendy psycho-babble of our generation.
Witness the astonishing growth of Taize worship throughout the US in the once mainstream Protestant realm beginning in the 1980s.  Note the ever increasing journey to retreat houses in this same period.  As someone in the Presbyterian Church wrote:  there is an ever-growing desire to commune with the sacred spirit of the living God that is bigger than anything we do on Sunday morning.  We ache for silence.  Paradox.  Spiritual depth. And apparently we have to go to the monastery to get it!

That certainly was part of my journey. I remember thinking about a month ago, that had life been just a bit different I could have easily wound up in the Roman Catholic tradition. I love the saints - and read their stories regularly. I adore the smells and the bells - and celebrate Eucharist weekly. I pray from the Book of Common Prayer - the Anglican resource - that one priest once described as "Catholicism that makes sense in this generation." Most of my spiritual directors have been priests.  And truth be told, most of the theologians I read are from the Roman Catholic and/or Eastern Orthodox realm. From the early 90s I have been a part of different monastic orders, too from Caritas and Celebration to my current affiliation with Iona.
At the same time, I continue to be a practicing member of the Reformed tradition in the spirit of Calvin and Luther.  I celebrate their deep mysticism and grieve that somehow it has been mostly lost or forgotten in the contemporary Reformed church.  So every now and again, I am startled to find that those I love are uncomfortable or perplexed by this deep ecumenism. They aren't accustomed to icons.  Or chant.  Or prayers dedicated to the Virgin Mother.

This discomfort is a healthy reminder to me as a pastor of two things:1) most who have become part of our congregation in the past 6 years have not been raised in New England congregationalism; and 2) many of the old timers have no idea how eclectic our community has become on my watch.  As we attempt to become a church that is real in the 21st century, I sense God is calling us to be radically inclusive - leaving behind the adolescent protests of the late Middle Ages - so that we can use ALL of the spiritual resources of the church: Catholic, Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox.

As some of my mentors in the Grateful Dead once said:  what a LONG, strange trip its been.

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