Of spiritual rebels, untamable hearts and a God who is bigger than religion

Here is another instalment of thoughts from Krista Tippett’s book Becoming Wise.

On religion or religiosity:

Certain kinds of religiosity turned themselves into boxes into which too little light and air could enter or escape.

On responses, throughout the centuries, to the Church having lost its way:

The wandering ascetic, eccentric sages known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the visionaries like Benedict or Francis or Ignatius of Loyola across the many centuries in which Catholicism was the only way to be Christian – they all emerged at a distance from a Church they experienced to have grown imperial, externally domesticated, and inwardly cold – out of touch with its own spiritual core.

Intriguingly – and rightly, in my judgement – Tippett sees the ‘nones’, those unaffiliated with any particular religion, as the modern-day equivalent to the mystics and monastics who, in earlier times, have called the Church back to its ‘spiritual core’:

The Nones of this age are ecumenical, humanist, transreligious. But in their midst are analogs to the original monastics: spiritual rebels and seekers on the margins of established religion, pointing tradition back to its own untamable, countercultural, service-oriented heart.

I love the notion of religion’s ‘untamable, countercultural, service-oriented heart’. Without this, we have little of real value to offer to our world.

And Tippett quotes former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reflecting on the meaning of the divine name ‘hayah asher hayah‘, which he explains in transreligious terms:

Don’t think you can predict me. I am a God who is going to surprise you. One of the ways God surprises us is by letting a Jew or a Christian discover the trace of God’s presence in a Buddhist monk or a Sikh tradition of hospitality or the graciousness of Hindu life. Don’t think we can confine God into our categories. God is bigger than religion.

The great falsity of colonisation, the art of letting go – and some other thoughts from John O’Donohue’s ‘The Four Elements’

John O’Donohue is one of the most evocative writers I know. His books, his thoughts, his phraseology are like beautiful cathedrals to me, beautiful cathedrals made of words. Here are some passages from ‘Air: The Breath of God’, the first essay of The Four Elements.

John O'Donohue, The Four ElementsMost of the brutalization that occurs externally in the world is usually subsequent to a prior brutalization that has happened within the heart.

On fundamentalism:

One of the terrible deficiencies of most fundamentalism is that the … flow and risk of life get totally managed and programmed into categories.

Talking about Jesus, O’Donohue points out that ‘any place he appeared, his presence became a challenge’. A challenge, one might add, that is as unwelcome in institutionalised religion (the Church) today as it was at the time, a challenge we so often are quick to tame, contain or ignore.

I love these observations on territorial and spiritual colonisation:

We believe that salvation can only come from outside. This is the great falsity of colonization, be it territorial or spiritual. It robs the native land, or the native soul, of the sense of its own indigenous treasures and resources. Against all attempts at programmes and methods, the great art of holiness is to let oneself be.

And here is what O’Donohue has to say about religion vis-à-vis the truly inspired, the eternal:

Something inspired has the surprise, vitality and warmth of the eternal within it. … There is none of the deadness, seriousness or narrowness which affects so much religion and which has nothing to do with the eternal, but everything to do with the fears and competitiveness of the ego.

Finally, some words about loss, the art of letting go and receiving back a hundredfold:

We need to learn to be creative about loss …. The art at the heart of the mystical is letting go. If you learn to develop this art, you will receive back again a hundredfold everything you released. If you love something, let it go, and it will return to you. … This is the free art of presence in love and friendship. The Kingdom of God is about the transfiguration of Nothingness and loss into the fecundity of possibility.

The ‘fecundity of possibility’ – something to hope for and trust in, I suppose.

A profoundly disruptive prophetic ‘presence-in-the-world’

In a world where the Church no longer dominates Western culture and where ‘strong’ dogmatic statements are no longer heeded, the Christian is left to bear witness by faithfully following the way of Jesus as a prophetic ‘presence-in-the-world.’ … the story of Christ … is enacted rather than dogmatically stated and yet, in its ‘performance,’ is profoundly disruptive.

Thus Philip Sheldrake in Explorations in Spirituality: History, Theology, and Social Practice, summarising some thoughts of Michel de Certeau.

Not sure the Church has fully grasped this, but it seems to me what being a disciple entails.

The liberation of saying ‘No’

It may be that vice, depravity, and crime are nearly always, or perhaps even always, in their essence, attempts to eat beauty, to eat what we should only look at.

Thus Simone Weil in Waiting for God. Quoting Weil in an interview with The Other Journal, Barbara Brown Taylor comments:

To learn to look at things instead of devouring them is to discover how quickly the feeling of deprivation can turn to liberation instead. Every time I say no – to more stuff, more speed, more activity, more food – this great big space opens up in my life. … If the church is meant to embody an alternative way of life, then what better witness could there be than a community that decided to live on less in order to live more richly? That sounds like the kind of truth that could make people free.

God’s kingdom of justice, of peace, of laughter, of joy, of caring, of sharing, of reconciliation, of compassion

Desmond TutuSome quotes from Desmond Tutu’s God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time.

On ‘a deep reverence’ for this world:

… all is ultimately holy ground and we should figuratively take off our shoes for it all has the potential to be ‘theophanic’ – to reveal the divine. Every shrub has the ability to be a burning bush and to offer us an encounter with the transcendent.

On a church that is too focused on the world to come:

A church that tries to pacify us, telling us not to concentrate on the things of this world but of the other, the next world, needs to be treated with withering scorn and contempt as being not only wholly irrelevant but actually blasphemous.

On prayer, government and the kingdom of God:

It is dangerous to pray, for an authentic spirituality is subversive of injustice. Oppressive and unjust governments should stop people from praying to God, should stop them from reading and meditating on the Bible, for these activities will constrain them to work for the establishment of God’s kingdom of justice, of peace, of laughter, of joy, of caring, of sharing, of reconciliation, of compassion.

On peace, justice and terrorism:

… instability and despair in the third world lead to terrorism and instability in the first world. … there is no way in which we can win the war against terrorism as long as there are conditions that make people desperate. […] there is no peace without justice, and safety only comes when desperation ends.

Wise words!

People in need of saving

We believed that God’s home was the church …, and that the world was a barren place full of lost souls in need of all the help they could get. […] The problem is, many of the people in need of saving are in churches, and at least part of what they need saving from is the idea that God sees the world the same way they do. … What if a lost soul strikes God as more reachable than a lifelong believer?

Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: Finding the Sacred Beneath Our Feet

Nature deficit disorder

‘Nature deficit disorder’ – I rather liked that phrase, which I came across in an interesting article on Forest Church by Bruce Stanley in Third Way, June 2013 (see also http://www.mysticchrist.co.uk/forest_church). I was also struck by these words:

We’d rather be on the mountains thinking about God, than in Church thinking about the mountains.

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