It's my experience, observationally and personally, that people of faith go through the same kind of U curve, the same ennui that you experience psychologically. …. this malaise, this sense that you're praying and no one's listening, that the honeymoon is over. Those really rich feelings during prayer or everyday life — that God is here and present in this moment, “I feel the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit” — for most people, I think that ebbs. I think that's part of the plan.
… I talked to a group of nuns who are in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, because I figured they had a dog in this fight — if they lost their faith it actually would matter. What do you do when stuff gets boring or dull or hard? To a nun, their answer was the same — sometimes you don't feel God, and you just keep going. It's a relationship.
A BEEPING, BUSTLING Boston intersection is a strange place for a sanctuary, but on a blustery August evening, the corner of Beacon Street and Massachusetts Avenue becomes just that.
“This is holy ground,” says Rev. Laura Everett to several dozen people who form a semicircle around her and a lily-white bicycle chained to a concrete pole. Flowers overflow from the bike’s front basket.
“We’re here to dedicate this ghost bike,” Everett tells the growing crowd, “a visible sign of an invisible reality—that we’re fragile humans, and we’re only here for a little while.”
Everett, clad in religious vestments, and the crowd around her, wearing bike helmets and messenger bags, are installing the “ghost bike” as a memorial to 38-year-old cyclist Anita Kurmann, a beloved endocrine surgeon in the city, who was killed 13 days earlier when she was struck by a flatbed truck. A cyclist reads Psalm 23 into a megaphone and another reads a letter from Kurmann’s lab supervisor before Everett leads the congregation in a simple call-and-response prayer.
“When we choose to take a bike instead of a car,” Everett prays, “when we choose to listen instead of shout, when we choose advocacy instead of complacency, when we choose to get curious instead of cranky, when we choose to heal a broken world instead of cursing it, when we travel past this spot, remind us of Anita.”
“Holy One,” the crowd responds, some with eyes clenched shut, “hear our prayer.”
It’s a remarkable thing to witness (even on YouTube months later): a Christian minister leading a wildly diverse community of cyclists in prayer and lament for a fallen sister, and for each other. Her bike ministry extends beyond presiding over ghost bike ceremonies, though. Everett—a United Church of Christ minister and executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches—leads a “blessing of the bikes” each May where she prays for cyclists’ safety and anoints dozens of sets of wheels with chain lube. And as a four-season commuter cyclist herself who’s officiated three ghost bike ceremonies for fellow cyclists in a little over a year, she’s become a fierce advocate for transportation infrastructure that respects and protects cyclists.
Italy may be the spiritual home of 1.2 billion members of the Catholic Church around the world, but a new poll shows only 50 percent of Italians consider themselves Catholic. The poll, published in the liberal daily L’Unita on March 29, challenges long-held perceptions that Italy is a “Catholic” country, despite the popularity of Pope Francis and the historic role of the Vatican City State in the heart of Rome.
As a social concept, humanism isn’t a threat to religion, nor actively working against it — humanism is simply a growing alternative in terms of spiritualism and rationalism. These six burial practices of humanist funerals can help us understand why.
A friend of mine who was serving as chief of his band said that the heart of Indigenous Cree spirituality revolves around praying for good hunting in the fall, and giving thanks for good hunting in the spring.
When I relate this story, sometimes people ask, “How do you know it was good hunting?”
I replied, “If you make it through the winter alive, it was good hunting.”
In Indigenous Cree theology, we begin with the idea that it is a good world. The Creator made her, and she provides for us. Our response to enjoying the world that Creator has provided is to give thanks.
Thanksgiving fulfills the circle of relationships that characterize our journey here on the circle of the earth. Being unthankful can indicate a shift in focus, from the relationships that make up our world to focus upon ourselves.
I recently picked up a fascinating book called Octavia's Brood co-edited by Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown.
In a discussion about the book, Walidah Imarisha said, "All organizing is science fiction. What does a world without poverty look like? What does a world without prisons look like? What does a world with everyone having enough food and clothing look like? We don't know. It's science fiction, and it is as foreign to us as the Klingon homeworld."
I had never heard of organizing being discussed in such a way, and it led me to reflect on the importance of envisioning and dreaming of the kind of society we fight to create. I also found myself reflecting on this statement in a different light: All organizing is also theological and spiritual. A simple explanation of this is that organizing and activism is faith in action.
Stereotypes of aging fall into four buckets. The first, the persistent image that is considered by many to be the norm, is that aging is something to be reviled and dreaded. At best, growing old is something best done out of sight and mind, ideally in a gated community and ultimately in some kind of institutional setting.
A more palatable position, the second bucket, acknowledges aging as a time of inevitable decline and detachment, but thinks this is not a bad thing. Known as “disengagement” theory by gerontologists, proponents of this bucket think of aging as a problem to be solved in order to keep elders as serene as possible as they transit the wasteland of old age.
The third bucket, activity theory, swings the pendulum to the extreme. As a result, a new generation of elders has been put on the run. To age “successfully,” one must be kept busy pursuing second or third careers, finding renewed purpose, reinventing ourselves, and otherwise proving that one can be productive and engaged to the end. An unfortunate side effect of activity theory is the adulation of youth and the legitimization of denial. Don’t like the idea of aging? Just don’t do it.
But there’s a fourth bucket, the one we have been exploring together since that memorable conversation on the stairwell. That is, aging as a spiritual path. In this vision of aging, growing older takes on added meaning as a life stage with value and purpose of its own. The key is embracing rather than rejecting or denying the shadow side of aging.
The universe is made up of 96 percent dark matter and energy, swirling with complexity — black holes, empty spaces, bad dreams, failed marriages, unknown territory, broken bowls and bruised shins and loneliness. And yet — look! — everything is still churning along. And in a way that can only be explained in the gut, these alarming dark things are perhaps the only things that have the tendency of bringing people together into community.
As Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche writes, “In community life we discover our own deepest wound and learn to accept it. So our rebirth can begin. It is from this very wound that we are born.”
Her once boundless energy starts to fail by midday. She started radiation treatment on May 21, mainly in an effort to forestall the possible collapse of her spine, which would leave her helpless and in intractable pain.
“That sounds a little formidable to me,” she says.
“I was never much for suffering.”
She goes on, her words carefully chosen. “Am I grateful for this? Not exactly. But I’m not unhappy about it. And that’s very difficult for people to understand.”
Religious identity used to be “inherited.” “Cradle Catholic” is shorthand for born into the faith; within Judaism, the faith is passed through a Jewish mother to her children unless they grow up to proclaim a different religion.
But children don’t just inherit parents’ spirituality, says psychologist Lisa Miller in her new book, The Spiritual Child. She writes that the essential sense of a transcendent power in the world — one that will love, guide, and accept them and wrap them in a protective layer of self-worth -– has to be nurtured.
I have a confession to make. I have not always been very fair with the church, and for that I apologize.
In an effort to share my love and passion for my faith, I have picked and poked and criticized the church, and maybe that is a bit unfair. I have been a minister going on six years, and during that time, I have been the best and the worst that the church can offer.
I have a certain understanding of the way a church should operate, and when I do not see that being played out in the communities around me, it makes me upset: upset about the way God is presented, upset about the droves of people who will miss out on a life-changing relationship with God, and upset that I cannot change everything.
It's difficult for me as a young minister to slow down and be reflective in the face of impending decline and danger of closures for many of our congregations.
It's not easy being a minister today, and I guess it’s easier to take out my frustrations on the church instead looking for that 'silver lining.'
But I have a come to the conclusion that maybe all is not lost.
Nadia Bulkin, 27, the daughter of a Muslim father and a Christian mother, spends “zero time” thinking about God.
And she finds that among her friends — both guys and gals — many are just as spiritually disconnected.
Surveys have long shown women lead more active lives of faith than men, and that millennials are less interested than earlier generations. One in three now claim no religious identity.
What may be new is that more women, generation by generation, are moving in the direction of men — away from faith, religious commitment, even away from vaguely spiritual views like “a deep sense of wonder about the universe,” according to some surveys.
Michaela Bruzzese, 46, is a Mass-every-week Catholic, just like her mother, but she sees few of her Gen X peers in the pews.
It’s rare that a film can take all of these journeys and still tell a cohesive story. Sometimes, when we’re very lucky, a truly special film comes along that gets as close as possible to combining and distilling the infinite layers of the human experience. The Sojourners Internship Program is one of these truly special feats. It takes each facet of its characters’ journeys seriously, and allows each of them to explore those facets in their own unique ways.
Like most great stories, the setup of The Sojourners Internship Program is simple, but filled with the potential to go any number of directions: 10 individuals from different ethnic, economic, political and spiritual backgrounds are selected as interns for a social justice organization. They travel to Washington, D.C., to live in community and work together. But the community they live in is no ordinary community, and neither is the organization. The interns enter their house in Columbia Heights as strangers with hopes, ideals, doubts and a few preconceived notions. But they will leave forever changed.
The organization at the heart of The Sojourners Internship Program is just one of the great things about this beautiful, thoughtful, and challenging piece of art. It has its own rich history, a complicated and colorful tapestry of victories, defeats, joys and sorrows. The genuine caring each employee displays toward each other and towards the ten fresh-faced newcomers inevitably brings to mind John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It comes as no surprise then, that those same behaviors extend to the community of interns as they learn more about their work and the issues they will come to be passionate about. Fortunately, the film doesn’t sugar-coat anything — these folks are only human, after all, and what’s a good story without a little conflict now and then? But the way these ten young idealists work together eventually mirrors the way they live together, and that gradual transformation with its own celebrations, disappointments, pain and healing, is a beautiful thing to behold.
It’s interesting how the word “grace” gets used a lot, even by those who don’t necessarily consider themselves religious. It’s a favorite name for a character that represents someone who is a gift to us — I’m thinking about Bruce’s girlfriend Grace in Bruce Almighty, or Eli’s reassuring encounter with a woman named Grace in the second season of the TV series Eli Stone.
You can probably cite many more examples of characters named Grace in different movies, television shows, and books.
We like to put flesh-and-blood on the notion that we are recipients of some great gift that arrives unexpectedly and is given freely. Someone or something that comes into our life and significantly changes it for the better in some ways.
But what is grace? Who is grace to us?
Faith is a journey, a Pilgrim’s Progress filled with mistakes, learning, humble interactions, and life-changing events. Here are a few things I would do differently if I could go back and start over:
1. I wouldn't worry about having the right answers.
There’s a misconception that the Bible is the Ultimate Answer Book and Christianity is a divine encyclopedia presenting the solutions to life’s biggest questions. In reality, the Christian faith is about a relationship with Christ instead of an academic collection of right or wrong doctrines.
Rather than wasting time, energy, and resources on superficial theological issues — I would focus more of getting to know Jesus. Never let a desire for “being right” obstruct your love for Christ.
Uber-atheist Sam Harris is getting all spiritual.
In his new book, “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion,” the usually outspoken critic of religion describes how spirituality can and must be divorced from religion if the human mind is to reach its full potential.
“Our world is dangerously riven by religious doctrines that all educated people should condemn,” he writes in the book, but adds: “There is more to understanding the human condition than science and secular culture generally admit.”
The prescription, Harris holds, is Buddhist-based mindfulness meditation. A Stanford-trained neuroscientist, Harris is a long-time practitioner of Buddhist meditation. He said everyone can, through meditation, achieve a “shift in perspective” by moving beyond a sense of self to reach an enlightening sense of connectedness — a spirituality.
It was the beauty on the outside that drew me away.
Before social justice became trendy among evangelicals, people of all denominations, faiths, and philosophies had already been steadily working in the trenches without fanfare, caring for the least of these with a quiet strength.
Through seminary, I learned to grapple with justice being at the heart of the Christian Gospel — dignity, equality, and right to life for all — I marched out into the real world with zeal and vigor to champion the rights of the oppressed in the name of Jesus. However, I discovered the people who were doing this work often had no identification with Christianity, that those outside of church were behaving more Christian-ly than some inside.
I admired Nicholas Kristof, a self proclaimed nonreligious reporter, who tirelessly sheds light on humanitarian concerns.
I adored Malala, a Muslim, who stood up to the Taliban to bravely demand a right to education for girls.
I reflected on the justice heroes of recent history, people like Gandhi and countless other humanitarian workers who don’t claim the Christian faith for their own.
It disoriented me because for so long I believed it was only through Christ that one can walk in righteous paths; that without the Truth (which had been so narrowly summed up for me in John 3:16), everything was meaningless. I didn’t have an interpretive lens to categorize beauty that existed outside of the vessel I was told contained the only beauty to be found: the evangelical Christian church.