I spent the afternoon away from home, walking and praying and asking God to speak into my next steps. There is so much up in the air. I’m a preschool music teacher who doesn’t yet know if the schools will open in the fall, or whether there will be funding for my programs, or whether singing will be allowed in public spaces. I’m a Catholic music minister who is facing similar uncertainty at church. I’m a writer who has yet to find a publisher who is willing to walk alongside my weird middle path of cradle Catholicism + Protestant wisdom + finding God in our everyday lives. Also, I’m a Mom of two grown kids who are finding their own way in the challenges of this changed landscape.
So, it’s a lot, I know. And while none of us knows what the future will bring, it seems like now is a time in which we really don’t know. As the world holds its breath and the structures and assumptions upon which we’ve always relied seem to quake a bit, it’s good to remember that this is exactly the kind of time in which God speaks. So today, I walked and I prayed and I listened. And as I listened, my racing heart slowed and something new rose to the surface. I felt a new theme in the water for me and maybe for you and maybe the world, something that’s been swirling around trying to get my attention. I wonder if you’ve felt the same.
There’s a lamppost that God has stuck into the ground of my spiritual life in the last couple of years and it seems that recently, the bulb has quietly switched on to a dim light that’s getting brighter by the day. It’s the distilled ‘something’ our restless souls are seeking, whether or not we’re part of an organized church, and in fact, it’s much bigger than any church walls could hold. It’s the light of authentic experiential Christianity, a relationship with the God who made us, which is reflected across denominations in lives that are bearing real fruit.
I have a real sense that things are not going to be the same after this, faith-wise or in any other way, and that’s a good thing. In these chaotic times, we have a unique opportunity to serve each other across denominational or religious lines while bringing with us the best parts of our wisdom, traditions, and talents. The world we’ll enter into after this may not have the time or patience for labels or ‘camps’, and certainly our tolerance for clericalism and legalism will have come to a crashing, if late, end. Now we know that the responsibility for the cultivation of our spiritual lives falls primarily on our own shoulders. We have a chance to dive deep and wrestle with what it is we actually believe, to encounter God as a friend, and bring that encounter to others. I don’t know what the institutional church will look like after all of this, but it seems clear to me: the Holy Spirit is on the move, and thank God.
In the past twenty-four hours, I’ve heard a podcast conversation between Jennifer Fulwiler (a Catholic speaker/author/podcaster) and Annie F. Downs (a Protestant speaker/author/podcaster) talking about how much we can learn from each other. I’ve heard a conversation between Matt Maher (a Catholic musician) and the ladies at the Abiding Together podcast (all of them Catholic) speaking about the beauty and humility of Christian ecumenism as modeled by Maher’s own marriage and family. I’ve planned a walk on a Catholic college campus with my Protestant friend from our shared retreat house. I’ve read with happy tears about the decision of Seth Haines, a young and popular Christian author and speaker, to convert to Catholicism. I’ve read prophetic new words from my friend Amanda Whiting, calling the church to a new standard of love amid uncertainty. I’ve finished re-reading Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday which dares to empower Christians to question, learn and grow denominationally, and I’m looking down at my car’s passenger seat right at this moment at a heavily highlighted copy of Thomas Merton’s (a Catholic monk) writings. This last bit I highlighted was written in the early 1960s, though it may just as easily have been written today.
“The validity of the Church depends precisely on spiritual renewal, uninterrupted, continuous, and deep. Obviously this renewal is to be expressed in the historical context, and will call for a real spiritual understanding of historic crises, an evaluation of them in terms of their inner significance and in terms of man’s growth and the advancement of truth in man’s world: in other words, the establishment of the “kingdom of God.”*
To sum up Merton’s words: faith is an inside job and it’s the work of our lives. With the backdrop of our current circumstances, it’s time to dig deep and build the kingdom of God, without walls and together. In these times, an individual church will be judged as valid or invalid dependent upon its renewal. Imagine that. It’s challenging, but so hopeful. It feels like the kids in Narnia hearing the name of Aslan for the very first time.
So, I didn’t get any answers today about next steps in my own life or the lives of my dear ones, but my heart feels lighter now and I’m looking up. I don’t know what my personal future will hold, but there’s a change in the air for sure. We have a God who is busy making all things new, and He is calling us to do the same. Let’s go.
Twomey, Gerald. Thomas Merton: Prophet in the Belly of a Paradox. New York, The Missionary Society of St. Paul, 1978