This Sunday was the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year. I had the responsibility to preach here at the Monastery, a responsibility that I did not relish, because I do not resonate with the themes of Christ the King. I ended my sermon with these words: “For myself, I long for a different word than king, a word yet to be uttered by human lips, a word that is more silence than speech. And I’ll pray for the ears to hear that word in the searching gaze of my human brothers and sisters, of the devastated and majestic earth we live on, and in the cave of my own heart.” (You can read the full text here or listen to the audio here.)
More and I more I find myself longing for a new word. More and I more I ask myself the question: “to what extent do the religious forms we have inherited facilitate our deeper movement into God, and to what extent do those forms hinder that movement?”
Our Founder writes beautifully in his Rule about the importance of silence to the Christian life. “Language conceals thought as often as it expresses it,” he warns, “and a wall of words can often hide us from each other. We must then cherish our times of silence; we must feel that this silence is a golden chain binding our hearts together.” (Ch. XIII)
We need to hear a similar admonition about the doctrines, liturgies, and forms of the Christian Church. They conceal the truth of God and creation as often as they convey that truth. So many of our images for God are stale and weighed down with centuries of meaning that no longer holds in our context.
The natural course of the world is that forms arise, endure for a time, and die and that the decay of those forms’ passing is itself food for the birth of new forms. This dynamic is obvious when you think of an acorn that falls into the leaf litter of a forest, grows into a large oak and, after a few hundred years, dies. That tree then decomposes, creating a rich humus in which new trees can grow and flourish.
Why then do we cling so stridently to doctrines, practices, and images that no longer serve? It seems to me that if we truly believe in the message of resurrection, we would do better to mourn the beauty that is dying away and to wait with hope for the new creation yet to be born.
I realize these thoughts are a bit abstract. The reason for that vagueness is that I am not clear myself on just what forms and structures and doctrines and images weigh us down more than lift us up. And perhaps that is because an image that may no longer serve my journey into God could be key to someone else’s.
Still, I do have the beginning of a list of questions and observations that form the basis of my own explorations at this time. Perhaps some of these, listed here in no particular order, will resonate with you as well.
- Does the idea of original sin still serve us? Or do we recognize the inherent goodness of creation and humankind, a goodness that is perfected in Christ?
- And if we do recognize that inherent goodness, how does that change the meaning that we make of Christ’s incarnation, passion, and resurrection?
- Can we begin to celebrate that we are all inherently one with the created world, that God is at least as imminent as God is transcendent? Or, even, that God’s transcendence is God’s imminence?
- How can we let go the trappings of empire that weigh down our understanding of God and God’s work? And specifically the image of God as King, slayer of the wicked, patriarch, and guardian of a privileged, exclusive community?
- How can we open our canon of scripture so that we invite the experience of ongoing revelation to shape our communal expression and celebration of God’s creating and redeeming work?
- Can we celebrate and welcome the softening and interweaving of religious and denominational boundaries rather than walling ourselves up in a solid-state religious identity?
- How can we begin to reshape our eucharistic liturgies so that they are grounded in the intimate experience of Christ in the created world and so that they reflect the experience of God’s life within and all around us rather than reinforcing patriarchal, imperial, and hierarchical understandings of God?
- Do we need so many words in our liturgies and scriptures? (As a brother of mine recently quipped, ‘I wonder sometimes if all these psalms give God a headache.”)
- Can we allow the Church to die in the ways it needs to die?
- Do we realize that the Church is and always has been and always will be too small for God?
As I say, I don’t have answers to these questions. And there are many, many more questions to ask. I do know that at the moment I am craving new life for our world and our church, new understandings of what it means to be a person in love with God in the world, new words for the holy.
I want a whole year of Advent, or perhaps a whole decade, or even a whole lifetime. I want a time of waiting, in silence, for the coming of God among us. I long to be surprised by the beauty and novelty of God’s emergence. I want to be stretched ever larger than I am, to touch the uncreated and, as Hadejwich of Brabant puts it, thereby to be undone.*
And so, as I said in my sermon Sunday, I wait for a new word, a word yet to be uttered by human lips, a word that is more silence than speech. I wait, and I watch.
are too small
to hold me.
I am so vast
In the infinite
for the Uncreated
it undoes me
wider than wide
is too narrow
You know this well,
you who are also there
Translated by Jane Hirshfield in Women in Praise of the Sacred