What should we make of those who call themselves "Spiritual but not Religious"? To many of us, this growing body of folks stand in need of a tether to community and a spiritual tradition. Do it yourself spirituality can lack ethical/moral foundations. Ultimately we become our own god, accountable to no one. Lillian Daniel has recently published a book that tries to respond to this new movement by pointing to the importance of community. She has been critiqued as being too harsh and unresponsive to their complaints about the institutional church. I've offered my own review of Lillian's book in an earlier blog post. Today, however, Bruce Epperly takes up a new series of posts dealing with Lillian book. Bruce's approach might be a bit gentler, but he's in agreement that community and tradition are important to spiritual growth and development. I invite you to take up the journey with my friend and co-Energion author, Bruce Epperly, as he engages Lillian's book and arguments.
Laughing with Lillian – 1 – Every Day is a Special Occasion
A young girl grew up hearing her mother tell her that the china dishes were only to be used for a “special occasion.” “What are you waiting for?” she asked as a young girl. But, the special occasion never came; for decades the dishes remained on the shelf. As an adult, she inherited the china and one day found herself repeating her mother’s words, when her own daughter asked if they could use the china for a family dinner. “Isn’t today a special occasion?” her daughter asked, waking her up to the reality that this day and this daughter alike were special. Don’t wait for a special occasion – for this is the day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Lillian Daniel strikes an important note in her text, When “Spiritual but Religious” Is Not Enough. (Jericho Books, 2013). It is the note of divine omnipresence. The One who present in the manger, who welcomes a prodigal son, and who is served by caring for the “least of these,” comes to us with an invitation to awaken our senses to the holiness of every moment. Today is a special occasion; don’t wait till tomorrow to revel in God’s wonderful world!
Lillian Daniel’s book is a pilgrimage in inductive or lived theology. You won’t find a lot of theological doctrine in the text, but you will discover a strong sense of God’s presence in “surprising places, even the church.” Each moment of experience is a holy moment, a creative synthesis of the vast interdependence of life, personal decision-making, and divine inspiration, and intentionality. Each moment is a special occasion!
Theologies have struggled between issues of immanence and transcendence, and intimacy and distance in our relationship with God. Neither Daniel nor I follow a deistic or ultra-transcendent approach to the divine-human relationship. God is an insider, not an outsider; a companion and not an observer; an intimate not acquaintance. Both of us feel a kinship to Jacob, who following the dream of a ladder of angels, gasped, “God was in this place – but I did not know it.” While neither Daniel nor I are fans of woo-woo mysticism, ungrounded and untethered to lifestyle, ethics, and community, we are practical mystics, open to God’s surprising presence in jail cells, serving dinner on “special” china, pacing back and forth prior to a wedding ceremony, and sitting with a dying elder. God is in this place, all places, for those of us who open our senses to divinity in our midst.
The Celts speak of certain places as “thin places,” environments in which God and the world are unified and in which the everyday life is transparent in its revelation of divine companionship and intentionality. Daniel and I assert that all places are “thin places,” all moments are grounded in and point toward divine word and wisdom. As a process theologian, I seek to live in a world in which divinity speaks through every event. Alfred North Whitehead asserted that the world lives by the incarnation of God, and that each moment incarnates to a greater or lesser extent God’s vision for itself and the world. Even when we turn away, God is still speaking through insights, inspirations, emotions, dreams, and intuitions. (For more on process theology, see my Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed) and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church.
Daniel’s vision begs for spiritual practices. In response to the growing number of self-defined “spiritual but not religious,” otherwise known as SBNR, the church needs to articulate and publicize practices of wholeness and creative transformation. It needs to focus on prayer, meditation, healing, and spiritual formation classes, offering in ways that are inviting to seekers and SBNR’s. Many SBNR’s are attracted by meditation, healing touch, and mindfulness exercises. Congregations can offer courses on “meditation for personal transformation,” “prayer and healing,” and “walking prayer and self-awareness.” If congregations don’t have the resources to sponsor their own classes, they need to share programs with other congregations. (For emerging practices, see my Emerging Process).
Congregations can explore new ways of worship that join tradition and meditation. I was pleased recently in worshipping at Westmoreland United Church of Christ, Bethesda, Maryland, (http://www.westmorelanducc.org/) when Senior Pastor Tim Tutt led the congregation in a significant time of quiet meditation. Meditative prayer welcomes seekers as well as deepens the spiritual experiences of active congregants.
Today is a special occasion. God is here, and we know it, and now we share it through joining lively contemplation with world and community changing action for the transformation and healing of this good Earth.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty three books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed), Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: A Participatory Study Guide, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality in the Postmodern World. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary and Patheos.com. He recently served as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark's Gospel (Energion).