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  • Writer's pictureHelen

Spiritual home or away?

This week we met up with an old friend and former student who for many years was a Lutheran priest. While in the Lutheran priesthood, he took a step which for many of our Protestant friends would be unthinkable. He became a member of the lay order of Franciscans. Here was a faithful priest who, every week, would preside over the Eucharist in a Lutheran church – a church founded to reform the Roman Catholic tradition. At the same time, this priest was finding in a part of that Catholic tradition, a style and manner of worship which fed and continues to feed him spiritually. ‘I believe,’ he said, ‘that contemplative religion is the only way to feed the European soul.

So here was just the latest in a long line of people we have talked to recently, some of them at our recent reunion with students whom we taught in the 1970s, who say something like this: ‘I find fellowship in __________but I find spiritual nurture in_________. In the first gap, people often name some sort of organised religious place, a long-term religious family of which they have felt a part for many years. The other ‘members’ of that family may have been the first to teach them about God. They may have worked with them in the church and been with them through some of life’s big experiences. They may have brought up children together or been present during times of sickness, bereavement and loss. They may have offered much-valued and still-valued friendship and support at difficult times. The bonds with these communities are deep and strong. But when it comes to spiritual nurture there is a need to turn elsewhere, to find resource outside that community. The turn may be to books or to other traditions, it may be in personal rituals or different worship styles. Somehow an awareness rises that a different sort of spiritual wisdom and strength are available – and necessary for spiritual vitality.

This is quite an uncomfortable place for people to find themselves in on their spiritual journey. Discovering that a community which has done a great deal to nurture you, does not now satisfy all your spiritual longings can come as a surprise. Being part of a community which has given and sometimes continues to give generously to you, people with whom you have prayed and worshiped and laughed and cried is hugely valuable. Recognising that some of those same still much-loved people do not always facilitate the meeting of your deep longings for God can create deep soul-searching. Have I lost my way? Is it me? Or is it them?

When I am working with couples who have relationship difficulties, it is not unusual to find people who hope that their partner will meet all their needs. To expect such a perfect fit is to ride for a fall. No single person can meet all another’s needs. It’s the same with friendship. Why should it be any different with religious groups? What has led us to expect that one particular group can always and only speak God to our hearts? Why should this creative God who spoke out of a cloud and a burning bush not use a variety of means and people to communicate with us? It reminds me of what Jesus said, ‘If the children close their mouths, the stones will cry out!’

It is tempting to remain within the familiar safety of our group. Our recent conversations often give credence to the idea that there can be wisdom in venturing beyond.

If you have your own way of filling the gaps in the sentence above we'd love to hear from you!

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