Monday, June 6

Haystacks and hearts

There is a thorny issue which sits in front of me these days, for I have read much, reflected much and prayed more than I'd like to admit about the intersection of religion, theology and spirituality.  I should, in the first, discuss what those terms mean to me as I have examined this problem and realise that they are separate and even occasionally mutually exclusive things.

Spirituality is the raw and direct experience we (collectively and individually) have with the Divine.  It is wonderful and messy and very difficult to explain, especially without sounding like a crackpot.  Theology is spirituality's little brother, being the rational, systematic study of God and our relationship with Her.  In short, theology is to spirituality what science is to nature, an attempt to logically understand the illogical and wonderous.

Religion is a method of us as spiritual/theological beings, to relate to each other in community and to collectively implement the interpreted desires of the Divine.  Because it is relational in nature, it is no less messy than Spirituality but, as the relationships are between fallible people who never really 'get' each other, it is much more fraught with problems which stem from miscommunication, misunderstandings and personal, petty concerns.  If that wasn't enough, there's ecclesiology, which is the 'science of church', much like theology is the 'science of God'.

What does it mean, then, to be a Christian? Does it have to do with belonging to a particular sect or denomination?  Does it require attendance and participation in a certain parish or church?  What about acceptance and obedience to creeds, covenants and counsels? Obviously, if the root of being a follower of Christ is to have a relationship with the Father, then spirituality is central.  Unless one is to be a hermit or solitary aesthetic (something which neither appeals to me nor seems generally positive), one needs to have a relationship with our fellow humans.  Thus, religion is on the list of 'must have'.  This leaves the 'sciences' of theology and ecclesiology.

As one who has been, from an early age, inculcated in the cult of rationality, raised in the religion of reason and schooled in the sect of science, this is where I am the most comfortable.  Indeed, growing up in my old, protestant religion, it was impressed upon me strongly that the age of miracles had been turned over to the age of reason.  In the last few years, I have come to discover how very, very wrong that thought process is.  Scripture does not say "No one comes to the Father except through Aquinas (or Luther or Hooker)." nor "...that those who believe in the Filioque shall not die..."  or "This is the cup of my will be shed for the ultramontanists so that they may be forgiven."  The more I read of theological and ecclesiological thought, the more I realise why Aquinas said his work was straw. 

And yet.

And yet Dad wants me to be a priest, said so in fact, and to be a priest, the religious communities require that one must delve into these haystacks , paddle about in the piles of straw in some attempt to find that proverbial needle of Truth.  Sure seems a lot of work to come to "Love God and do right by your fellow man, following your conscience."

Just sayin


  1. I like this analysis a great deal Tim. I would offer this, I have found my community not in religious participation, as I did in the past, but in service to the least of my brothers and sisters. My community is not just my clients, but the rest of the staff that serves them. OK and sometimes clients serve us---in more ways than they could ever be "allowed" to know.

    I will also say this, my daughter came to me this weekend and told me she was going to pursuit Episcopalian priesthood because it would never happen for her in Catholicism. I was somewhat shocked. Not because of the Episcopalian thing. She wanted to know how she could reconcile her confirmation as a Catholic with her felt call to the priesthood. Hmmmmmm

    After some serious thought, I said I was really glad she was headed to a different Apostolic tradition because the Catholic tradition was really really sick in it's current expression and I wasn't sure she had the strength to put up with such a sick energy for any length of time. That in my personal lifetime I had seen the Roman Catholic priesthood compromise and spiritually destroy some very good people and wouldn't wish that on her for anything. She then thought for a long while and decided to do some more thinking. I was glad about that. She's a very gifted psychic/mystic. I would hate to see that gift destroyed by the kind of conflicts you describe in this post. Rahner was right, the future of Christianity is in it's mystics, not it's priests and it's tough to be both.

  2. Ah Colleen, I figured that if anyone would speak to this, it would be you. Thanks most kindly.

    A man much wiser than myself told me once that by teaching we are taught and by serving we are served. The whole situation with myself on where and how is very much in process and becoming. All I know for sure is that the Divine has things well in hand and that IS good enough.

    Regarding your daughter, I wouldn't wish to gainsay her choice, but if the key to her is being catholic and a priestess, may I humbly recommend examining another way. I'm not saying it's THE solution (because I don't think there is any single solution), but it's another way.

    To be candid and possibly blunt, the vast majority of the laity and clergy in the communion are folks who couldn't stay in the RC (due to the sickness you mention) but wouldn't leave their Lord and wanted to keep most of their heritage and tradition as catholic.

    So, last Saturday we celebrated the approach of Litha in our monthly Celtic mass presided over by a divorced female priest and yes, the Spirit was there. Amen and alleluia.

    As I hinted in the post, I was taught that the mystic and the religious was somehow immiscible. I am seeing more and more that I was misled in that regard and every day that I work towards integrating the two, the better things feel.