A reflection and some questions for our group discussion on chapters three and four of Called to Question:
"Some people who haven't gone to church for years are still very tied to it in psychological ways and never go beyond it....What forms us lives in us forever. The important thing is that it not be allowed to stunt our growth."
What do you think of this? Does this phrase resonate with you? - the idea that what forms you lives in you, and your task is to not allow it to stunt your growth?
Can you resonate with the idea of being formed, and influenced by that formation, and the subsequent risk of being stunted in the confines of your reaction to that formation?
And, then because we are talking about faith, spirituality, and religion, are you able to live in and with ambiguity and uncertainty? For example, there is a saying about leadership:
"The most important quality for a leader is the ability to tolerate ambiguity."
Chittister considers the various rites of the church to be religious, and thus staid and old, and lacking in spirituality. Modern day rituals like baptism and Eucharist, in her experience, are dry and lack meaning to a 21st century person of faith, in part because we can't bear the unknown. Rather we have to have clear concise answers for everything. She writes:
We can't hear mystery, we can't abide the beneficence of the unknown. We "define" the nature of God, the substance of the Holy Spirit, the persons of Jesus. We dogmatize the unknown and we excommunicate people who dare to wonder. I find it very hard to anymore to abide the dogmatizers though I sometimes admire their sincerity of "faith." Or is "faith: simply another term for the compulsion to know, and the willingness not to think.
Second point: what do you think about the idea of tolerating ambiguity? And, then, also how this ability is part of our faith - the ability to tolerate ambiguity being a sign of one’s ability to move into a deeper sense of spirituality?
Chittister continues this reflection in chapter four with a look at the messy church teachings which, on the one hand, describe humans as sinful and God as one who lies in wait to catch us in sin, and on the other hand, with a God who is all loving, forgiving, and every present. Her struggle is with the idea that one wrong sin and we are lost in hell forever. God sits, waiting for us to make a mistake, waiting to catch us in sin, waiting to punish us. How, she wonders, does one reconcile this predatory God with a loving God, a God of compassion?
Figuring out sin, and finding language to talk about it, is crucial to our wellbeing. No doubt there is grave sin, simple sin, all kinds of sin in this world. And each of us sin. Each of us cause brokenness, and contribute to brokenness, in ways known and unknown. Each of us could do a better job of being compassionate and loving.
Third, what is sin? Do you actively consider the ways you contribute to the sinfulness of the world? What then do you do?
The key is, as Chittister's says at the end of the chapter, our willingness to be part of the journey. God is ever present, with us every step of the way, in every mess and situation, and joy - God is present. God desires for all of life, for every situation, to be - or to be restored too - fullness of health and well-being. That all of life exist within a balance of creative order - sky and land and water - teeming with life and ordered for wholeness and well-being. And so when life slips into chaos, as it does, as we do, God is there, turning and returning our dis-order and brokenness into new life. We are invited to join God in this creative process. We will, of course fail from time to time, but the invitation remains.
Chittister concludes (paraphrased):
But life is not about “getting” God – like one understands the plot of a book or the thesis of a paper or like one gets groceries – one does not attain God. Rather life is about growing in God, our experience of and understanding of God is a life-long process. "God called me from the womb," Isaiah says, "and from the body of my mother. God named me...In God I live and move and have my being...There is, I think, a call: deep in the human heart, a magnet that takes us first to our true selves and from there into a consciousness of the God who is the call...
The spiritual life is much more simple than we might make it. It is simply the ability to abide in the ambiguity of God, trusting that this mysterious God is present with us always.
What do you think? Are you able to tolerate ambiguity? Or do you need answers and clarity?