Observation # 3: Although the institutional expression of faith is in precipitous decline throughout North America and Europe, faith is not in decline. The majority of people still believe in God and have deep spiritual longings. They simply would not think of looking to the church to satisfy their spiritual hunger.
Cynthia's response: Ouch! What a zinger that last line is!! But like the lad in that old fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” it names a truth that can be completely liberatingonce we let it out of the bag. If so many people “simply would not think to looking to the church to satisfy their spiritual hunger,” where are they looking? That’s pretty easy to see: to retreats, meditation workshops, wisdom schools (mine fill up instantly, a couple of years in advance), mystery schools, vision quests, spiritual direction programs, interSpiritual Institutes such as Ken Wilber’s Integral Life or the Spiritual Paths Foundation), internet courses (the wildly successful Spirituality and Practice e-courses, for example), virtual monasteries such as Sr. Joan Chittister’s newly launched “monastery of the heart, and grass roots contemplative orders and organizations such as Contemplative Outreach, The World Community of Christian Meditation, or our own plucky little Contemplative Society. They’re signing up for embodied experiences such as yoga retreats or Sufi zikr and whirling; they’re flocking to a proliferating network of “Open Centers” where spiritual ideas can be freely presented and pondered in an atmosphere of open inquiry and respect. The bottom lines seem to be that most people hunger for genuine spiritual formation (not doctrinal imprinting) in an atmosphere of embodied practice, non-sentimental but profound mystical devotion, and open, interSpiritual inquiry that draws respectfully on the transformative wisdom of all the great spiritual traditions. And if even this is too arcane, they run marathons, go skiing, or hang out at the Sunday market.
And I have to admit that for me, too, when I’m not scheduled to preach or celebrate, I do the same.
The big problem, of course, is the lived experience of a very large number of folks out in the world is that the church blocks the view, hog-tying genuine spiritual yearning in an intricate tangle of doctrinal ownership and theological nitpicking. If you’re following the response to Christopher’s observation #4 (to be posted soon), you’ll see what I mean. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? What part of “contemplative,” “embodied,” “immediate,” “non-ideological” do we not understand? Why would we rather be “correct” than connected?