Tuesday, January 06, 2009

An Evening Stroll (and Theological Musings)

Last night at about 7:00 I went for an “evening stroll” along the coastline near my parents’ apartment complex.

It was a beautiful evening with the heat of the day gone but the air still fragrant and warm, and the light just right for taking photos.

And so with camera in hand, off I strolled . . .

After a while, however, I found myself focusing more on taking the “perfect” shot than on appreciating and enjoying the beauty around me. And so I put my camera away and simply sat upon a rock high above the tumbling waves, aglow in the descending twilight – content to just observe and take it all in without trying to capture and, in some way, control it.

This experience reminded me somewhat of theology, of our human and thus limited attempts to talk about, make sense of, and, at times, to judge our and others’ experience of God against our own fallible criteria instead of the criteria of liberation and flourishing established by our brother Jesus.

It’s so true, isn’t it, that we can allow our obsession with words, doctrines, and “rules” to make us fearful and distrustful of the clear signs of liberation and flourishment within a myriad of human lives and relationships around us.

It seems so typically human of us to fall into the trap of confusing those often rigid, controlling, and thus “safe” constructs we call doctrines with the great mystery, the boundless and awe-inspiring love that these doctrines are actually attempting (in their limited ways) to direct us toward; a mystery and love that is often so much more readily discernable within the sensual realm, that complex and often messy arena of real holiness.

I’ll let you in on something: the older I get the more I realize (and appreciate) that the true language of theology is actually closer to poetry, to the realm of metaphor and symbol, than it is to doctrine and the quagmires of legalism and literalism within which it can so readily take root.

As I’ve noted previously, I’ve come to recognize (believe, I guess you could say) that our rich, diverse, and evolving Catholic tradition tells us that the Catholic endeavour is not about fearful and unquestioning obedience to a monolithic and rigid hierarchy of institutional power – one mired in the “diseased system” of clericalism, the excesses of papalism, and the institutional church’s “unhealed wound” around issues of human sexuality.

Rather, our tradition tells us that the Catholic endeavour is all about trustful openness to God’s transforming presence within and throughout the vast arena of human life and relationships; it’s about looking at the word with “sacramental” eyes, with an awareness that the world is more than we know, and with the knowledge that that’s okay for being the pilgrim church that we are. Yes, we’re a community of spiritual seekers still very much on the journey.

I’ll be the first to admit that such awareness and knowledge of the Catholic endeavour has been facilitated by the experiences and insights of myself and others (past and present), open to God’s transforming and liberating presence in situations and experiences that some may well dismiss and/or malign. Regardless, such openness has led to a level of spiritual maturity within and throughout the church that does not fear questions or ambiguity.

It’s also a maturity that can say with calm and trusting certitude that our responses of integrity and love to God’s presence in the lives and relationships of those that others may demean and dismiss, trumps unquestioning obedience to the institutional church – the function of which seems, sadly, to be more about continuing itself in its current crystallized form than about being open to the spirit of God which blows where it wills.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What It Means to Be Catholic
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Chris McGillion Responds to the “Exacerbating” Actions of Cardinal Pell
Real Holiness
Genuine Authority
Beyond Papalism
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
What is it That Ails You?
“Uncle Vince” is at it Again
Time to Go? (Or Time to Acknowledge a Maturing Catholic Faith?)

For more images of the coastal beauty of Port Macquarie, see the previous Wild Reed posts:
Advent: Renewing Our Connection to the Sacred
The Empty Beach

. . . and the 2006 posts:
A Summer Afternoon
Rocky Beach
Flynns Beach
Coastal Views
Pacific Skies
A Solitary Ramble


Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right, of course. There is no doubt that through the Holy Spirit, God will speak to us directly in prayer - if we allow ourselves to listen. Too often we Catholics are embarassed about prayer as listening to the Lord, and use it only for talking to, or at, Her/Him.

One of the best ways to do that listening is just as you have done - to find a quiet place for reflection, allowing the "still, calm voice" to come through. In doing so, we develop the best antidote to the bullying authoritarianism in some aspects of the hierarchical church that I know of.

Steve Clemens said...

Thanks for your photos and always thought-provoking articles.