Religion

Post about Religious topics. My spiritual journey is a subtopic of this.

Grant Ward Gets Touched by An Angel on Inauguration Day: A Meta-analysis of Gavin Stone

It is late Thursday evening, just over twelve hours until the forty-fifth President of the United States is sworn in. I am sitting in a movie complex in a shopping mall in New England with my fifteen year old daughter. I can’t remember what the last movie was that I saw in a movie theatre. Most of the great old art houses showing Kurasawa, Truffaut, Tarkovsky, and Wenders are gone. There is too much gratuitous violence and too little depth for me in most of the movies today.

Earlier this evening, I read a few of my poems at The Ghostlight Project event at a community television station studio, expressing hope that theatre, the arts, could remain a light, a beacon for diversity, in these troubled times.

I am in my late fifties, still trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do with my life. For the past few years, I’ve been exploring becoming an Episcopal priest. I believe it is what I am supposed to do, but the committee that accepts people into the ordination process don’t seem to think so.

My daughter is bright but struggles with her health. She is politically active and especially concerned for women’s rights and gay rights. She loves Brett Dalton and has been talking about this film since it was announced, and so here we are, at one of the first showings.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone was exactly what I expected. It is formulaic, cliché-filled, predictable, and probably a really important film to see right about now. It is the sort of film that your aunt, who always tells you she is praying for you hopes you will go to. Her comments about praying for you has always made you feel a bit uncomfortable. God isn’t really something you talk about in the twenty-first century, but you know she is kind. She loves you and that she will sit through hours of binge watching Touched by an Angel, or Hallmark Holiday Specials with you as you eat ice cream and try to mend a broken heart.

Not only is the movie formulaic, cliché-filled, and predictable, but it seems like the backstory is as well; some Christian writers and producers getting together to make a movie, hoping to win a few converts to Christ. It hits all the right notes for the conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical crowd. A washed-up Hollywood elite coming to know God through having to do community service. A pastor who is kind, caring, and fixes the hot water heater in the church, not one of these celebrity preachers. The pastor’s daughter, who learns a little bit about grace and forgiveness herself after having been hurt by yet another person in the entertainment industry, and the hero’s reconciliation with the father, but his own father, as well as our Heavenly Father.

The cast is as diverse as nineteen-fifties middle America. There is a black person somewhere in the crowd, and perhaps some Asians or Latinos. If there is a gay person, they are so far in the closet you cannot see them. The references to sexuality are minimal. The stars don’t have sex. The only direct reference is recounting the scene of the woman caught in adultery.

Likewise, the only violence is in the re-enactment of the Crucifixion.

So why should you go see this movie now? Don’t go, to criticize it. Don’t take a friend to try and convert them. Don’t go for the narrative. Go for the meta-narrative, for the movie’s place in the twenty-first century. Take a friend who is seeking Christian Reconstructionism and another who is seeking Moral Revival. Take a friend who has been reading Foucault and Judith Butler.
Gavin Stone tells the folks at the church that a key to acting is listening. It is a message that we all need to listen to. The pastor’s daughter tells Gavin about the importance of humility. That is another message all of us, especially our newly elected leaders, need to listen to.

I am writing this on inauguration day. A lot of people are concerned about what is in store for America over the coming four years. I am actually feeling somewhat optimistic. Actors are speaking up at theatres. Women are marching. The rebellion against political correctness is now being seen for what it is, a lame excuse for self-centered rudeness.

Find someone different from yourself to listen to. You can start by going to see The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.

Peregrinatio Matryoshka

It is cold, dark, and wet as I begin my journey around the cornfields. I am starting an assignment for my course on English Spirituality and Mysticism. “Spend at least one hour walking silently in nature. Reflect on how you experience (or do not experience) the divine or the transcendent in the natural world around you and in your body.”

I had hoped to do this practice in the Alice Newton Street Memorial Park. It would have been more wooded, and not around a large field. Yet I needed to fit it into a busy schedule that would have minimal conflicts with my work and family obligations which meant I would have to do at least part of the walk in the dark.

It wasn’t completely dark at the cornfields. In the distance were houses and streetlights and my eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light. As I walked, it would become light, hopefully, a fitting metaphor for the exercise.

As I start, I recite fragments of St. Patrick’s Breastplate and other journey-prayers from The Celtic Way of Prayer that we have been reading for the class. I like the idea of journey prayers. I like the idea of journeys. I like the idea of Peregrinatio, a journey with “no specific end or goal such as that of a shrine”, as Esther de Waal describes it. I like the idea of “The longest journey is the journey inward”, a quote from Dag Hammarskjold that de Waal talks about.

I think about my walk around the cornfields as a peregrinatio nested inside the peregrinatio of the class, of my current discernment journey, my journey inward, and my life; a sort of peregrinatio matryoshka.

I try to clear my mind, to walk as contemplatively as possible. It is still dark, and I feel the soft ground covered with pine needles giving way to the gravel path, softened by the rain. In the distance a car drives by. Overhead, I hear a plane. The world beyond the cornfields, even at this early hour is busy, and getting busier. It is the world of Martha. I am trying to walk with Mary and with Christ.

One section of the path around the cornfields is near a road with sodium vapor street lights. They shine through the barren branches of the winter trees creating complicated patterns that make me think of Celtic decorations. The words of William Dix in the hymn, “As with Gladness Men of Old” come to mind.

“In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light”

The light is reflected off of the wet dead leaves on the ground. Water. Reflection. I see this again, later, in puddles along the path, and I think of the reverence of water in Celtic spirituality.

It is peaceful in the cornfields. I am alone. It does not feel like a “voluntary exile...in imitation of Christ himself” that de Waal talks about. If anything, the busy world of Martha feels more like being exiled. The walk is an intimate time with God.

I pass the community gardens. They make me think of Crofters’ gardens, at least as I imagine them. Yes, this idea of the Crofters’ gardens is probably rooted in Celtic romanticism, grown out of nationalism, but that is part of my upbringing. I think of my own upbringing on a small New England farm and my idyllic memories of my childhood, ora et labora. The labors were those of a child during farm chores and the prayers were my laughter and joy.

My mother is now dead and my father is frail, yet the nature walk brings back those memories. Perhaps that is some of experience of the divine on the nature walk; being connected to the land, to history, to family. I savor the peace, the quiet, the memories, and the joy.

It is beginning to get light now. The sound of water dripping off the leaves after the rain is joined by the sound of creatures stirring. A bird chirps, but there is no sign of a wild goose. In the bushes there are other animals, perhaps more frightened of me, than I am of them. There is a mist over the field, and this too feels like Ireland or Scotland. The ground smells fertile, although lacking a peaty smell. A chill wind blows against my face, not a cold, biting wind, but refreshing. It is a reminder of God being well pleased with creation.

As a child, I often walked in the woods. There was always a sense of something out there. Spirits? Angels? What was it? The same sense is around the cornfields, especially as it becomes lighter and the mist more apparent.

In the distance the sirens of the volunteer fire department sound. It is time to end my walk, my reverie and to head off to work. It will be a busy day, but I head off to my tasks ahead reminded of God’s love during trying times.

I look at the questions of the assignment. “How does this experience help you understand the chthonic and panentheistic nature of pre-Christian Celtic spirituality?” “What new insight(s) into pre-Christian Celtic spirituality do you gain from this experience?”

Perhaps it is best summed up in the words of Esther de Waal in the introduction to her book:

“Here, instead, everyone sees themselves in relation to one another, and that extends beyond human beings to wild creatures, the birds and the animals, the earth itself.”

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A New Journey

This week, I am setting out on a new journey. I am taking the online class English Spirituality and Mysticism at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. It is part of a larger journey of trying to make sense out of my experience of God at the ISM Poetry Conference: “Love bade me welcome”, which in turn is part of the larger journey of trying to find God’s will and meaning for my life.

One of the texts for this course is The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination by Esther de Waal. I’ve only read the introduction and the first chapter so far, but I’m greatly enjoying it, and thinking about how it, and the course will help shape my journeys. One quote from chapter 1, which is entitled Journeying puts it nicely into context, “The whole of life itself is for them a journey from birth to death”. The chapter spends a bit of time talking about journey prayers and journey blessings, spending a fair amount of time on St. Patrick’s Breastplate which I have always loved.

I write this all in the context of many journeys going on. Donald Trump’s journey to the Presidency. The journey of many friends to protests against things that President Elect Trump has said, the long foot journeys of two friends, one hiking the Appalachian Trail and another setting out to walk the Carmino de Santiago.

I pray for blessings on each journey that we all may act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

English Spirituality and Mysticism

So...

I've signed up to take the online course English Spirituality and Mysticism.

I've taken online courses in the past, but this is the first one that I'm actually paying for since I took Grief in the Family Context back in 1999.

Things have changed a lot in online education since 1999 and I'm looking forward to this class, especially because I'm doing a lot with online education for my job right now.

Anyone up for joining me?

Destigmatize Loneliness

I started writing a post about friending and unfriending people on Facebook, and took a pause to read what some of my friends were posting on Facebook. One friend posted a link to an article in the New York Times, How Social Isolation Is Killing Us.

The final paragraph starts, “A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart”. Yet this seems to overlook the fact that we’ve been drifting apart longer than we’ve been digitally hyper-connected. In 2000, Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” came out, in which Putnam explored the trend of social isolation starting back in the 1950s.

The Times article explores the negative impact of social isolation, the way we interpret ambiguous social cues, and the stigma of loneliness. It suggests different ways of addressing this.

Religious older people should be encouraged to continue regular attendance at services and may benefit from a sense of spirituality and community, as well as the watchful eye of fellow churchgoers.

A few things came to mind as I read this. First, going to church isn’t just for older people. I often talk about the importance of multiculturalism. The same applies to multigenerationalism. We need to cross not only boundaries of race and ethnicity, but also boundaries of age and value people of every age.

The catechism of the Episcopal Church in America describes the mission of the church saying,

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

To put it another way, a key part of the church is to fight social isolationism.

Another article I stumbled across this weekend illustrates this very well. The Portland Press Herald recently ran this article: When you’re the only one who shows up to church

As we talked, I thought about the timeliness of this little scene. In an age when many Americans have abandoned the institutions they once turned to for solace and truth, there we were, a priest and a journalist huddled together in an empty church. With the light fading and our voices low, it felt almost subversive, as if even kindness were a political act.

I shared this post, urging people to be subversive, practice kindness, and wonder about what their Epiphany will be this year. After reading the Times article, I’d add help destigmatize loneliness and fight social isolation.

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