As the ancient structures of Christendom crumble--its beliefs, its authority, its buildings even--what remains? I've been deconstructing the church, examining the assumptions that have held it together for so long, many of which have failed the test of time. Gone is the confidence that Christians are singularly in possession of the truth. Gone is the unquestioned right of clergy to determine for the rest of us sound doctrine and correct behaviour. Gone even is the safe place that once gathered the lost to its bosom.
In the vacuum left by the church's collapse, many have walked away. Frustrated, disappointed, and sometimes hurt by the church's inability to see beyond its own narrow visors, they've found other means of nurturing their spiritual instincts. They've inhaled the astringent scents of a forest trail, or stilled their minds in the quiet of meditation. They've read books that sate their intellectual curiosity and reached out to a hurting world with helping hands and voices for justice. They left The Way; but they found instead many ways.
Those of us who were fed and formed by the church are reluctant to sweep it all aside. The church must have been doing something right, or we would have left it long ago. What is it that keeps us here, sifting through the ashes for some treasure to hold onto, some truth that abides even as the light falters and the words fail. What was this all about anyway? What deep need was being met, not only by the compelling person we addressed as Lord and Saviour, but also by those who ministered in his name?
The church was formed when Jesus's followers felt a powerful presence in their midst after he died--his presence. Jesus himself had inspired people with his talk of God's closeness and with a life that radiated a radical love for all, especially the poor and marginalized. He pointed to a way of being in the world that loved God by loving the neighbour, beginning with ourselves, invoking a divine grace that would guide us along that path. I think the church was on to something, even if it lost its way.
Conventional Christianity may be less helpful to us now, we who are modern-day seekers. But it has given us a place to start. It has to do with a God who is with us always, closer than we think, and a love that is stronger than death. Beyond that, without scriptures and creeds, and without a sanctuary to call our home, what does faith look like now? I think it can be described with three words: Grace, Gratitude, and Gravity.
Next Week: The Gift of Grace