Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Wittering Wednesday!: Lost at sea without an anchor?

I can see I'm going to have to alternate my typical that the blog has been silent for a week and when I want to spill, it's a Wednesday! (And I haven't had to be inspired by Morning Prayer this week. But we are talking spirituality here.)

My second year of lay ministry training for the Church of England commences next week, so we've been doing a little reading. I've already read Richard Foster's Streams of Living Water during my first year, and appreciated it, but this week we are asked to look at the foreword by Martin Marty, which refers to spirituality not in terms of streams, but in terms of being 'moored' or 'unmoored'.

It suggests, basically, that spirituality which is linked to an organised church or religion is 'moored', whereas the 'New Age' "I'm spiritual but I don't worship" kind is unmoored - a ship without an anchor, as it were. And I'm not sure that this is a useful way of looking at things.

Firstly, it draws a strict line between those who worship communally according to shared rules and regulations, and those who don't. Those who find God in creation, who seek him in meditation, who don't label the intangible but nevertheless feel it, are seen as adrift. Those who go through the motions of church services, getting wound up about who is doing the coffee rota with them this week and fussing over the choice of hymns, are seen as connected. How is that right? How is dismissing the strictures of organised religion in favour of something freer and more personal that works for you, guaranteed to take you away from God?

Admittedly, it winds me up. People whose behaviour I consistently see as selfish banging on about their 'spirituality' and 'feeling something' when their actions don't change; they aren't interested in a holy spirit acting within them or others. But for many, including myself, that's where it begins. My conversion from atheism to Christianity actually came about through Muslim friends discussing their faith; I'm not suggesting that Islam is in any way unmoored (no pun intended), but I didn't know if I had found a spirituality, Allah, God or Gandalf the Grey at this stage.

Everyone has to start somewhere on their spiritual journey. At every point on it, whether finding calm through yogic meditation or finding transcendental peace up a mountain, I tend to think God is there, trying to reel us in - looking for His lost sheep, putting out the feelers, welcoming us home. We're not disconnected from Him, we're just experiencing Him in a different way. Over time we may discover the Qu'ran, the real meaning of Jesus, the faith of Judaism, and start to engage in religious practices.

But these practices themselves can be seen as mere ritual; people go through the motions every Sunday without feeling anything spiritual. God knows and understands why so many people are put off organised religion when it is responsible for so much hurt and indifference. Yes, the Abrahamic religions can offer a structure by which to live our lives - but does that make us any more connected to God? What about the person who blindly follows the rules of a dubious religious cult - faithful, and moored to what exactly?

If Marty had been explicitly speaking about the Christian faith and Jesus, I could understand a little better. Yes, perhaps toying with crystals and never convening with other Christians renders you adrift from the wonderful fellowship of the faith and discovering more about the Holy Spirit. But the author's dividing the world into those who are meaningfully spiritual and those whose spirituality has little meaning in his terms. (And really, who is he to judge?)

The Christian faith & Church of England are obviously important to me, and I desire that many more people I know can come to understand their importance and worship God through them. I want others to encounter the glory and humility of Christ, and learn to live more like Jesus. But there are other types of Christianity; there are other world faiths; there are other ways of connecting with God. Aren't we all experiencing the same thing, under a different guise, at a different point on our journey? Is it just a question of semantics, after all?

This time last year, I asked friends and colleagues to define spirituality. The most loquacious on the subject were largely atheists and agnostics; they recognised spirituality as a human phenomenon, this need to connect with the something out there, but they didn't necessarily relate it to even a personal theology. Martin Marty defines unmoored spirituality as 'self-acquired', but I think he's missing the point. God surely helps us acquire our spirituality, in whatever shape it comes; he made us with the capacity - the desire - to seek for the spiritual, wherever we can find it.

To me, it's not whether my spirituality is moored or unmoored - I believe that all spirituality has God as its anchor at some level, striving to break through any drivel and fakery (and I'm not just talking about New Age approaches here!). It's how we commune with it. It's how we let God meet with us and shape us, direct us and allow us to grow into the people we are meant to be. It's how we let our spirituality define us and run through us like the letters in a stick of rock, rather than a label on our foreheads. It's about whether we listen when we're praying or actually care for the people with mental health problems who come to church, rather than just tolerate them. It's about what our quiet time inspires us to do, and challenges us to become. It's about what we read means to us, as well as to others, and what it helps us, with God's grace, to understand. It's not about being linked to a specific religious tradition or not - rather, it's what we do with the spiritual tools that are at our disposal, right now, on our journey to God. Never mind the anchor - how and why is the rudder being steered?


(By the way I would thoroughly recommend Streams of Living Water as a read!)

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