Mystic Mondays November 28, 2016 (Post-Thanksgiving Lazy Edition)
About two years I added into my daily time of morning meditation (and strong cup of coffee) a practice of reading just a page or two of some writer who transports me to a more reflective place. Currently I am about halfway through the late Irish poet and theologian, John O’ Donohue’s, Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Yearning to Belong.
Many lines of his give me something to ponder each day, but a line yesterday really tweaked my interest. Writing on the topic of Celtic spirituality he says,
It is interesting to reflect that the Celts were not taken with the construction of great architecture. They loved the vitality and magic of open spaces. Celtic spirituality is an outdoor spirituality.
I live in the great Pacific Northwest known for its stunning physical beauty, relatively mild seasons (anything is mild compared to Wisconsin!), and year round recreational opportunities. People here love to hike, bike, kayak, bird watch, camp, ski, snowshoe, garden, dig for clams, drink coffee at open air cafes, and even walk in the rain! Nature is…well…second nature to Oregonians.
Oregon is also known for having one of the highest percentages of religiously unaffiliated in the entire country. I don’t think this is a coincidence. If you had the choice of hiking to a waterfall or sitting in a pew listening even to a well-delivered sermon chances are most Oregonians would choose the trek to the waterfall.
I have only been in Oregon for fourteen years, but I know that I fit the typical Pacific Northwest stereotype. When I can get away on the weekend you will find me cycling, hiking or snowshoeing, depending on the season. I resonate with O’ Donohue and his understanding of Celtic spirituality being an outdoor spirituality. My adventures out on the trails or on the roads don’t feel like just the required exercise that the doctor ordered. I immerse myself in the sensual experience of nature to restore my soul, remind myself of the earth’s rhythms and distance myself from the abusive noises that come from city life.
But I am also a pastor who is responsible for nurturing a church spirituality among my congregation and in my community. Despite my sometimes critical voice about the church’s increasing irrelevance among moderns (especially in the Northwest) I also relish the spirituality that emerges from gathering around a common table. I hold a real reverence for the place and the power of the pulpit to speak truth in a culture where lies and truth are getting difficult to distinguish. And I cherish the spirituality of compassion that gets lived out between members during the rawest times of life and the most celebrated.
The church where I am currently serving as a pastor has started an Earth Adventurers group that now has over 100 loosely committed individuals from Southern Oregon. The thread that holds them together is both broad and simple: Do you experience God or the Sacred in nature and want to join others in activities that honor our connection to and enjoyment of the earth?
But I am noticing a familiar pattern. In years past it seemed to me that I had a church spirituality and an outdoor (or Celtic) spirituality, but that the two didn’t mix well. On Saturdays I practiced my outdoor spirituality and then rushed home in time to write a sermon so that on Sunday I was ready to lead my congregation in their church spirituality.
The same is becoming true for the Earth Adventurers and Bethany church. Despite my involvement in both communities I find it challenging to describe the spirituality of the church to the Earth Adventurers and, vice versa, difficult to describe the spirituality of the Earth Adventurers to the church in a way that both groups would go, “Aha. I get it!”
I will admit that this post is basically a challenge to both the church faithful and the earth faithful and a cheer to those of you who fit in both camps simultaneously.
I have a dream (nothing on par with MLK, mind you!). I have a dream that someday I won’t have an outdoor spirituality and a church spirituality. I will just have a spirituality–a spirituality that experiences the Sacred in nature, around a communion table, sitting at the bedside of a sick patient, and preaching from a wooden pulpit.
I have a dream that someday Pacific Northwesterners won’t have to choose between meeting God on the trail or in the pews on Sundays. I have a dream that one day church won’t be defined by walls, but by meeting God on the road of life. I have a dream that the church will start looking for God outside rather than expecting God to take up a seat inside.