It is the middle of Holy Week. We look toward the celebration of resurrection that comes with Easter. As Bruce Epperly reminds us the early Christians found a way of connecting the celebration of resurrection with the rites of spring -- in a pagan observance called Easter. In this first of three conversations with Phyllis Tickle's latest book Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters, he takes up Tickle's point about hyphenated Christianities. There is a welcoming of the resources of global spiritualities that are enriching the Christian experience. Since Bruce is one who has not only welcomed this, but led the way, his reflections on celebrating hyphenation should prove informative and full of wisdom. Since I've not yet read Phyllis' book (it's on my shelf), I am reading these three pieces with interest.
Theologizing with Tickle – Celebrating Hyphenation
Bruce G. Epperly
Phyllis Tickle’s Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters reflects on the cultural background and current realities of emerging and emergent Christianity. She notes that many emergent and other seekers self-describe themselves as spiritually hyphenated . They participate in more than one religious movement within or beyond the Christian faith. These spiritual pilgrims may be congregational leaders and practice Zen meditation, belong to a mainline church and also attend charismatic or Pentecostal worship services, participate in Christian liturgical healing services and also give reiki healing touch, and lead worship on Sundays and channel healing energy through Qigong.
Some may criticize such multiplicity as examples of the “spiritual smorgasbord” or “heretical syncretism” or “cafeteria Catholicism,” but I think something much deeper is at work and this involves the dawning of new forms of global spiritual experience and practice to match the spiritual and cultural diversity of our world. Whether we describe this phenomenon as integrative spirituality, global Christianity, or inter-spirituality, there is no doubt that people from virtually every community of faith or pilgrim perspective are experiencing holiness through joining the insights of many faith traditions.
Today, I write these words on the first day of spring, the vernal equinox, and feel a spiritual solidarity with the wisdom of Earth-based or pagan spiritualities. As a follower of Jesus, I too celebrate the good Earth and the seasons of life, embodied in the rhythms of nature. The word “pagan” is no longer a derisive epithet; initially it meant nothing more than “people of the countryside” and we urban dwellings can learn much from the rhythms of the seasons and the spiritual beauty of nature.
Many people who worship the sky God – all transcendence and no immanence – eschew spiritualities of the earth as demonic and antagonistic to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But, Christians have consistently shared in the wisdom of their Earth-oriented companions, whether in the dating of Christmas and Easter, in the recognition of sacred places, both natural and human-created, and in the honoring of holiness in the non-human world. Psalm 148-150 describe an enchanted world in which God’s Spirit speaks through the spirits of the non-human world. The Psalms end with a startling affirming, scandalizing to dualists and worshippers of the transcendent sky God, “let everything that breathes praise.” The whole Earth, as Isaiah discovers in his mystical experience in the Temple, is filled with God’s glory. To paraphrase the question, “what is it that you don’t understand about ‘everything’ and ‘whole’?” Remember, you who scorn the angels of nature, that in Jacob’s dream of a “ladder of angels,” angels ascend from Earth prior to descending from heaven.
The pathway to vital global Christianity, constantly emerging in dialogue with pluralism, runs through hyphenated spiritualities. Many Christians are discovering African Yoruba spirituality, Aboriginal spirituality, energetic (chi oriented) spirituality, Native American spirituality, not to mention the wisdom of spiritual guides such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. Many have benefited from the writings of Deepak Chopra and the insights of Taoists and Sufis. We celebrate diversity as we make it up as we go along – creating new spiritual pathways - just as our parents in faith did two thousand years ago in bringing together the insights of Hebraic spirituality and Greek philosophy to understand and proclaim the global message of Jesus Christ.
This is not watering down the faith but rather widening and deepening our experiences of God in the world. The omnipresent God, seeking abundant life in all things, speaks in and through all things. To turn our back on the varieties of spiritual experience is to turn our back on God’s creative wisdom. We can be Christians, deeply devoted to Christ, who also pray with Pentecostals, chant with Roman Catholics, meditate on icons with Orthodox Christians, read scripture with evangelicals, and protest injustice with progressives; we can also experience the divine in reiki healing touch, Buddhist walking prayer, Zen meditation, Hindu yoga, Sufi dance, traditional Chinese medicine, Native American medicine wheels, and celebrating the seasons and the Earth with aboriginal peoples. This is what it means to grow in wisdom and stature, seeing God in all things and all things in God. We can grateful for a generous God, who provides various pathways for various peoples and invites us to lively creative spiritual synthesis in our time.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty four books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality in the Postmodern World.His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventerous Theology for a Missional Church.He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. 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).