Friday, April 23, 2010
Spiritual Practices: Ancient and Modern
I have just returned from a clergy conference with a group of women clergy. It is a group of women that I have corresponded with over the past 6 years but I had only met one of them face to face. It was an interesting topic that I felt that I could introduce to my congregation before I retired: Hospitality. But as we continued to go deeper into the subject, I found it was not the basic concept of welcoming new comers, or saying “Howdy”. The topic delved into how we were receptive to God and how we could invite the Holy into our lives and consequently invite others, both beloved ones and enemies into that Holy space where God dwells.
Many of the techniques that the director of the continuing education module taught were practices that I had learned years ago when I entered the convent: Learning to quiet the mind and heart, opening oneself to God, waiting for God’s word to settle upon us, and hearing and seeing in a different dimension. The group of women clergy was from several Protestant denominations but none of them seemed to know much about the ancient catholic meditative practices. Some of them practiced yoga, some, Buddhist meditation. There was there still a reticence among some to embrace a “catholic” discipline. I sometimes wonder if we will ever get past that 500 year old catholic/protestant division that we have used so long to identify ourselves.
The conference was held on cruise ship. There was no “Grand Silence” to break, or separation from the “World.” For that I am grateful. I have never liked the great separation of being “in the world but not of it.” I am definitely IN the world and OF that world and so is the God I worship. There is no isolation from the Creation that God has made even if some of the antics around the pool and on the beach were activities that I would not participate in. They are the people of MY world. They are creations just as holy and sacred as I. And when they stop to allow the HOLY to enter into their lives, they know God’s blessing just as surely as I.
So often I believe I have taught parishioners that the Church is the place where God is. I certainly have found the Holy there, but so many are not finding God there anymore. I wonder often what I did wrong—but then I also think that the World now is not the World I have always known. The world of social media is not one that is especially facile one in which to live. The technology goes so beyond what I know and can appreciate. But at the same time I do not want to be cut off from the young, the movers and shakers, the conversations about the Holy that remind me that what I have done in my life is not for naught.
The hospitality of God, the welcome that God calls me to and sends me out to offer to others demands that I be willing use forms of communication with which I am unfamiliar and will continue to be unfamiliar as I grow older. Old-fashioned sermons may not have the effect that they once had if they are not illustrated and music played in the background. Music may have to change to capture the hearts of those who long to enter the hospitality of God. But what about those who are being left behind? Do we just pat them on the head and pass over them? Do we call them to change as I must change?
The ancient practices of meditative prayer are still the meeting place for God and humanity. The ancient clearing (kenosis) of the heart and mind to make room for a loving Christ is still the place where we all meet. The singing of Matins and Compline still speaks of the Holy. The newness must make room for the ancient just as surely as “new occasions teach new duties.” The holiness of that which spans the universes, that goes beyond the Big Bang, that draws us into awe and leaves us incapable to describe the Presence is what is important whether it be worshipped in Church or art gallery, among thousands or in one’s closet, catholic or protestant, Greek or Jew, male or female or somewhere in between. Ohmmmmmm!