Ingrid Christensen, one time Director of the board for the Division for Church in Society of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said that when the church has done its best work it has done three things: had courage, listened to the people’s stories and kept God’s story of grace and mercy at the center of our work. Listening to the stories people tell is a way of giving validity to the lives we have lived. To listen is to tell people they matter. To listen to the words is to create a living monument to humanity. Our stories, our words matter. In this election year I am reminded of the power of words to sway our emotions, touching our deepest fears and attempting to give us easy answers for our greatest yearnings. The mis-use of words when they are used to manipulate and control is something about which we must always be aware. I recently listened to two professors discuss language and how it is being used to bring about decisions that influence not only our lives in this country, but also the world.
The language of fear is one that our enemies use with deliberation. Ask a child who is the victim of bullying what fear means -- non-acceptance, not being a part of a greater group, isolationism. Unfulfilled yearnings, desperation, lack of hope spill out by way of the power of words. It is the power of a language of fear that can cause us to give up our liberties into the hands of people who clasp the power for their own.
The language of isolationism is the idea that by staying out of the affairs of others we can protect ourselves. In this day and age that is not possible. But it is also a powerful language when dealing with religious and racial unrest, when we are talking about creating a kind of racial purity. When those of like mind isolate themselves from the “marketplace of ideas” their tenets harden and there is no room to breathe.
Appeasement had a meaning all its own when Hitler was seizing parts of Europe and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain came home to England with the words, “We have peace in our time.” Today appeasement is directed at affairs in which we are not directly involved whether in this country or another part of the world. “It is not our problem.” As if saying the words will make everything with which we are uncomfortable go away.
The world needs to listen to the language of the poor and downtrodden which is often a voiceless language. We need to combat words of racial and religious intolerance. It took lawmakers and this country over one hundred years before we finally heard the words of our fellow Americans and understood their words, “I have a dream.” When that dream was claimed by all it meant equal rights for all people regardless of race or gender. For a refugee the only words may be the quiet sobbing of a frightened child in a language we don’t understand or the huddled body of someone who has lost hope.
We need to fear when there are no words at all. The shallow tumble of words we text, Twitter and Tweet makes us numb to the deeper words we need to listen to and act upon. We can shut our ears and turn our backs, but the murmur of voices and the power of words are never silent.
Have you ever experienced what you might describe as a “thin place”, a moment when you felt very near to God?
Like most things in our world, faith issues have trends as well as fashion. For the past several decades it has been in fashion to say that you are ‘Spiritual’ and not ‘Religious’ and both words are spelled with capitals. I’ve read a little about it and I’ve decided that people are probably turning from denominationalism. No one seems to really like labels these days. We certainly see it in politics. This year in particular (2016) we are experiencing huge numbers of people who are listening to a certain political philosophy and are turning from “politics as usual.” In religious circles people following this path either seem to prefer a nondenominational church or their own brand of Spirituality.
Spirituality is that search for “God” in our lives. People seem to need some sense of a Supreme Being to give their life direction and purpose. Christian Spirituality follows a pathway to a simpler lifestyle, one that clears away the clutter of the material life in which we live, those things that can separate us from God. There are Spiritual disciplines to follow such as certain styles of prayer and the encouragement of reading scripture regularly. There are practices that include fasting as well as observing times of enforced silence. Each practice has its followers.
One branch of Spirituality that has become popular is Celtic Spirituality which springs out of northern England and the early saints who brought Christianity to the tribes of northern Europe, to a region that is called Northumbria. The history of Christianity in these regions is very ancient and is tied in with the bitter winds that blow off the North Sea and the rugged geography of the area.
In reading some books on this type of Spirituality I ran across a phrase that I really like. One author spoke of “thin places” in our lives. His explanation of that phrase was there are times in our lives when we are closer to heaven than others. That perhaps we can almost feel the flutter of angels’ wings against our cheek. I think a wedding service can be a ‘thin place’, at the time when the couple have spoken their vows before God and the congregation gathered and then receive a blessing. It is at the moment when the two become one that for a breath or two we are very close to what heaven is all about. Sometimes in the preparation of food I find a ‘thin’ place. All food is a gift of God’s creation and when I am using fresh ingredients, preparing a meal for friends or family or to take food to someone who is ill or a family who has experienced a death, it is then there is a thin place between the creator and the creation. The birth of a baby, the moment of death, an experience in nature, when we love another person -- God in those ‘thin’ places is very close to us. God is in the small things in life, those moments when our eyes are opened a little wider and we really see or really hear perhaps for the first time.
The true search for spirituality is not drawing away from God, rather it is plunging ourselves deeper into all that God has given us to know and enjoy.