I think I know in my heart what I want to say in this and a future related post – but I also have an intuition that what I write may be misheard. But hey! Like that’s never happened before 😉 so here goes:
Many of us will have been to a service with so many announcements and instructions it is indistinguishable from a rehearsal. Then there are services with wonderfully slick pageantry, those up front are intent on complex cues and out the back there are sometimes intensely debated negotiations before a group comes out and does its set of actions. There are services that work their way through reciting religious poetic material at each other and the experience is that this is done pretty much solely because it is a signed-to agreement. You will be able to think of other services: I don’t want to encourage a judgemental, holier-than-thou attitude, but is the service God-focused?
Contrast these with a service in a monastery. At the core of the service is a group of people who dedicate their life to the journey into God. The service is God-focused. Any “pageantry” or instructions are simply means to assist the journey into God, the focus on God. Where anything helps this journey, this focus, it is used. If it detracts or distracts, it is discarded. There is a clear distinction between means and end.
The photo is from Taizé. Services here, again, have, at the core, a group of people who dedicate their life to the journey into God. It is attractive. About 150,000 young people make their way there every year. Young people. Don’t tell me young people don’t have the same yearning for God as all humans throughout history. Don’t tell me that God is creating a new generation which doesn’t need God. Maybe there are new ways to cover our yearning or to distract us from it – but pause a moment with a young person and mostly they know it is a cover, a distraction.
Yes individual Christians and specific Christian communities may be known for being nice to people, extra nice to people, extremely, sacrificially nice to people. That is good and noble, important and necessary. And I don’t want to contrast this with a contemplative spirit, because I see it as all of a piece (told you it’s not an easy blog post to get right). But (and?) IMO people are hungering for a place where they encounter God contemplatively, where they know they are with fellow journeyers searching for and journeying into God. When a person searches for meaning, when they are seeking authentic spirituality – do they naturally turn to the church? IMO the growing group who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” generally mean “spiritual but not Christian“! As if the general population doesn’t think of seeing Christianity and spirituality as being in any way synonymous.
Well, I’ve tried. And in a future post I have some ideas with which I will try again. Meanwhile please consider adding your thoughts…