Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Church: Wholehearted for Godde's Sake

The Church is one of the most reactive institutions I know.

Something comes up in the culture, a trend, a fad or a deep movement toward secularization ( currently in vogue) and the Church leaps in to organize programs that are relevant, hang new signs that are attractive and LARGE, create kicky ads and slogans, beef up its church school, etc.

These strategic quick fixes may bear some short term fruit but usually they are hasty and don’t take root or ripen because these efforts are anxiety-driven. This is abusive all round.

Anxiety kills Spirit.

Clergy get exhausted and churchgoers and seekers are absent, apathetic or overworked. Over-reactivity for short term gain is sinful according to one Kabbalist (ancient Jewish mystical tradition) definition of sin as superficiality.

The worst abuse however is self-abuse, self-forgetting. The Church forgets to love the God who calls it into being and instead serves the almighty market to sell itself.

The only healing for this compulsive pattern is whole-heartedness. Know who you are, what you have to give and what you can do. What the Church does that is unique to its vocation is teach about Holy Scriptures, create liturgies that give meaning and ritual shape to people’s lives, build a welcoming community of prayer and sacrament, and provide pastoral care and compassion in times of need.

I do not include social justice because this is the work of all decent citizens and because there are many agencies involved with this work. It is not the Church’s job or her gift to be one more such organization. It is the Church’s job to encourage its members to devote a portion of their time to such work outside the Church.

To be wholehearted isn’t always obvious or easy. Poet David Whyte tells a story on himself. He was working in a social service agency, racing from thing to thing, task to task, desperately engaged in the work of helping others. One day he raced into a conference room in which he thought there might be a meeting he was supposed to attend and said to those assembled, “Has anyone seen David?” After laughter they sent the exhausted David himself home for the rest of the day.

Once home Whyte spent the evening with his friend and monastic brother David Steindl-Rast who listened to Whyte’s tale of overwork, reactivity and fatigue. Steindl-Rast told Whyte that the antidote to exhaustion was not rest. Astonished, Whyte looked at his friend and said, “What is it then?” Brother David said, “Wholeheartedness.”

Their talk led Whyte to consult his heart, find there his true gift and passion for poetry and to risk quitting his job and becoming a poet. Since then he has written many beautiful volumes of fine poetry and also used his poetry to help people in both church and corporate settings find their own hearts.

David Whyte wrote in his poem "Sweet Darkness": Sometimes it takes darkness/and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn/that anything or anyone that does not/bring you alive is too small for you.

Perhaps the Church could in this, its time of darkness and dangerous reactivity, re-enlist its own tired heart, not to self-serve but to dare to be wholehearted—for Godde's sake.