29 September 2018
This week end, looking for a bit of calmness in the storms, an adaptation of an older reflection.
Current political and religious world events remind us that it is time to refocus and develop new ways of seeing, thinking, and living. Not everything is falling apart. Socio-cultural autumn has returned with lost credibility and new uncertainties. Spring, however, with sanity and new life, WILL return.
Waiting for a flight from Washington DC to Brussels, not so long ago, I was re-reading Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth Johnson. A young passenger, with earphones tucked into his ears and texting on his iPhone, looked over at my book and me. “I used to believe in that God stuff,” he said. “I can’t believe in the old guy up there in heaven, running the show down here,” he continued. “I can’t either,” I replied with a chuckle.
Then he glanced at the name-tag dangling from my attaché case, which identified me as an ‘historical theologian.’ (The fellow had good eyesight!) “You are a theologian,” he said. “But you don’t believe in God?” “I do,” I said “but not the old image of God we inherited from the Middle Ages….I think God is right here with you and me and all the people waiting for the flight to Brussels.”
He pulled his earphones from his head, put his iPhone down, and for the next half hour we talked about faith experiences, contemporary life, his lack of interest in any religion — he was raised a Belgian Catholic — and yet his real desire to experience something ‘deeper in life….something spiritual.’
I told the young guy, on his way home after two weeks in Washington DC, that I meet a lot of people who are turned off by institutional religion. They are turned off by lost institutional credibility and feelings that the institution does not speak to them in a language they understand; nor does it speak about human life issues they find important. As one of my friends said, the church needs to change the conversation……
Over the noise in the airport, our boarding group was called. We were both in group three but our seat numbers were far apart. As we started walking to the gate, I remembered a quote from my spiritual guide, Richard Rohr: “In solitude, at last, we’re able to let God define us the way we are always supposed to be defined—by relationship: the I-thou relationship, in relation to a Presence that demands nothing of us but presence itself. Not performance but presence.”
“You know,” I said to the young guy as we got closer to the agent checking boarding passes, “I really think you will find the divine presence you are looking for if you put yourself on ‘airplane mode’ from time to time. We all need quiet time to simply be and reflect. We need to disconnect, occasionally but regularly, from all the noise around us.”
“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living,” Richard Rohr once said. “We live ourselves into new ways of thinking…”
Sometimes it takes a long time for us to ‘really get it’: What makes something secular or profane is precisely whether one lives only on the surface. It’s not that the sacred is here and the profane is over there. Everything is profane if you live on the surface of it, and everything is sacred if you go into the depths of it. Now is the time for deeper exploration.
We cannot not be in the presence of God. God is either in all things, or God is in nothing. As Richard Rohr again once said: “Jesus spent a great deal of his ministry trying to break down the false distinctions between ‘God’s here’ and ‘God’s not there.’ He dared to see God everywhere, even in sinners, in enemies, in failures, and in outsiders…..God is patient with all of us and with history itself.”