hey christians, get out into the world!

For me, the sign of a good book is if it keeps you pondering long after you finished the last page. Karen Armstrong`s book, Through the Narrow Gate – A Memoir of Life in and Out of the Convent has done this for me. In response to my previous post our friend, Ray, summed up the old school thought of religious life,

Over time religious life had drifted into a kind of personal devotion to personal salvation. The male religious in this project entered religious life at a time when the essence of religious perfection meant a separation from the world. 

I believe there is still a place in this world for women and men who devote their lives to the discipline of prayer. Thomas Merton comes to mind. Though a brilliant intellectual, he chose the hermit life of a Trappist monk. He promoted the value of contemplation as not only a means of union with God, but of spiritual union with the world. His prolific writings came from this grounded spiritual life.

But after Vatican II, many religious orders opened the doors of convents and monasteries and began to share their gifts with the world. I have many friends who are religious sisters or brothers. These women and men are passionate about living the Gospel, not just meditating on it. Their action is grounded in prayer. Their prayer leads them to action. What a loss it would be if they were all locked up in their religious houses, seeking only their own salvation!

As Catholics, we do not believe that things of the spirit equal good, and things of the world equal evil. We got rid of this dualistic philosophy a long time ago. But it still lingers. It yanks my chain when I hear any Catholic spout that holiness can only be found within the four walls of a church or religious community. What nonsense!

Think of it this way. Most women and men who are drawn to committed parish life or religious life are pretty serious about their faith. These are, for the most part, good people. And, the world needs good people. Isn`t it stupid to gather good people together and keep them separated from the world? We need prisons for the bad folks, for the safety of society. But, we shouldn`t be imprisoning our good folks, using all their energies and talents for the church or community. We need good women and men bringing their goodness into family life, schools, the work place, our streets and shelters.

As Christians, we need to be with like-minded souls. We need the gift of community to be formed, to pray, and to find support on our life`s journey. But our faith community or church should never be an end in itself. A wise friend once said that `community is the vehicle, it`s not the destination`. This is so true. Whether we are in a parish, a small faith community, or a religious community, we need to embrace our faith and then go out into the world and put that faith into action. God knows the world is in need of some serious goodness!

DIY spirituality

Yesterday’s post mused on the growing DIY culture. And, yes, my musings were a thinly disguised attempt to rationalize the fact that I DON’T want to do everything myself. I do not have the time, energy, inclination, or skill to tackle many of the tasks in my life. I respect and admire the skills of others, and am happy to seek their help. An expert can tackle the task at hand with efficiency and ability honed from experience and knowledge in their field.

Too often our independent, Do It Yourself mentality flows over into our spiritual life. How often do you hear, “I may not be religious, but I’m spiritual.” Or how about, “I don’t need religion. My spirituality is between God and me.” Can we ‘go it alone’ in matters of the spirit?

As with many things, I believe the truth is found between two extremes. On the one hand we can have an unhealthy dependence on the organized aspects of religion. We become so wrapped up in rituals, dogma and rules that we neglect our personal relationship with the Divine. On the other hand, we reject completely the “trappings” of organized religion as burdensome and even dysfunctional. We don’t need to be told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. My relationship with God is between God and me.

Christianity is an incarnational faith. God is more than a luminous, feel-good spirit. We believe that God became one of us to show us how to encounter God in the flesh and blood of everyday life. God can be discovered in the words and actions of another. God moves us in the inspirations and creativity of mind and heart. God speaks to us in creation, and in the events of the world. And God is present in community, where two or more are gathered.

The analogy of the cross is used to describe the vertical and horizontal aspect of faith. The vertical arm connects us to the heavens. The horizontal arm grounds us here on earth. God is present in both. And, in order to seek a balance in our spiritual life, we must attend to both.

The great religions of the world connect our relationship with God to our relationship with others. Divine grace is lived out in the earthiness of daily life. Love for God is translated into love of neighbour. Seeking spiritual peace is not for personal gratification. It is meant to overflow into our words and actions so there may be more peace in our world.

I do believe that you can find God outside of organized religion. For those who have been hurt or become disillusioned with organized religion, it can be more of a hindrance than a help. But seeking God with integrity and honesty can be a difficult task. And, as with all difficult tasks, it’s made easier with the help and support of others.

What do you do if you do not find this support in the traditional parish community? Where do you find support for your spiritual journey?