A few weeks ago, at a committee meeting here, Bo Crowell shared a reading that said great spiritual leaders come to set us free, but people tend to build institutions, which too often become about rules and customs, and end up being more restrictive than liberating. One particular line in the reading struck me: “You don’t need the church or the priesthood to have a spiritual life.” And I felt compelled to respond: “As someone who has chosen to work in and spend my life in the institutional church, I know that what you say is true. And sometimes I despair for the future of the church.”
There was a moment of silence. I was mostly speaking to the fact that these are not the best days for organized religion, that spiritual innovation these days is often happening outside the church, and I do wonder about our future. Then one of you spoke up. And quietly said, “I need you to hear, that right now, I need the church.”
Last Sunday I talked about paying attention, about the importance of being awake to this present moment. I truly believe that if you want to have a better and more fulfilling life, if you want a more robust spiritual life, the way to do this to practice paying attention. This doesn’t necessarily make it an easier life; sometimes it would easier to check out, to look the other way, because life necessarily includes pain and suffering. But the invitation is to be awake to it all, as best you can.
We just heard Mary Oliver’s confession, where she says
I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often (from the poem “When I Am Among the Trees”).
In early January I was hurrying around, trying to get things done before I left on a month of sabbatical. It was a busy time, and I had a list, and I may have seemed a bit stressed, maybe a little over-caffeinated. In those days I wasn’t exactly living as I hope to—walking slowly and bowing often.