A change of consciousness (Post 4)
In the fourth piece, “A Change of Consciousness,” Richard Rohr speaks for millions who have left the church. These are people who perhaps have no animosity for the church, but who simply feel drawn to a freer, more open, more unitive and non-dualistic embrace of God and spirituality generally. Richard Rohr and Barbara Brown Taylor, whom Rohr quotes at the beginning of his reflection, are two of the most popular writers at work today. They are both clergy – Rohr, a Roman Catholic, and Taylor, an Episcopalian – who express the deepest spiritual longings of many. John Philip Newell, a Presbyterian clergyman, would be another such writer and leader. These Christian leaders, and the people who are drawn to them, are people who insist that they have not left Christianity; instead, they have left the “institutional church,” which they see as an inferior expression of Christianity.
They express gratitude for the church and what it gave them. They’ve just moved on.
The problem is, if more and more people “move on” from the church, what will be left? Is the institutional church only able to tend to “the substructures and the superstructures of Christianity,” as Rohr puts it? Or is it possible that parish churches can be holy and thriving communities in which people like Rohr, Taylor, and Newell, and all whom they represent, feel at home? Can a church like St. Stephen’s be a community where such people feel as if they are able to spread their spiritual wings fully, without confining orthodoxies that require lockstep belief, or dualistic thinking that sets up theological battles and defines winners and losers?
Recently at St. Stephen’s, the Episcopal priest and founder of Thistle Farms, Becca Stevens, said that she had been ordained for over 20 years. “I’m pretty sure that I believe less today than I believed the day I was ordained,” she said. “But what I still believe, I believe with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind.” I suspect that Becca Stevens feels very much at home with folks like Rohr, Taylor, and Newell.
The 13th century Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote a poem that is beloved by many who say they are “spiritual but not religious.”
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
More and more people are finding the church to be too confining, so they are leaving church and seeking to meet in this field. But can a parish church be such a field and meeting place for the deep, spiritual seeking and engagement that more and more people long for? If so, what needs to change?