Go with the blessing of the God you could not reach

Once you have emerged from whatever safe religious place you were in – recognising that your view of the world is one worldview among many, discovering the historical Jesus, revolutionising your understanding of scripture and up-dating your theology;

Once you have changed the way you do church, or at least changed the music at your church and hired a pastor who twitters, or you can no longer find any church within a fifty-mile radius in which you can let your guard down long enough to pray;

Once the Dalai Lama starts making more sense to you as the pope or your favourite preacher, and your rare but renovating encounters with the Divine reduce all your best words to dust, well,

what’s left to hold onto?

Barbara Brown Taylor writing in her latest book Learning to Walk in the Dark.Learning_to_Walk_in_the_Dark-330-exp

She is describing an experience more common than is admitted among church-goers. We have created our little churchy Edens, but they have become places to hide from God. So we walk away and wonder what will happen next.

Taylor has charted her own departure in Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith followed by An Altar in the World. She completes this trilogy with an exploration of Lunar Spirituality in Learning to Walk in the Dark. (My review will soon be published in the Baptist Times).

In my review, I liken what she describes to leaving Eden. She lists reasons why people loosen their connection with church but at the same time they realise they are having less to hold on to. In the Genesis story the God who remains in Eden does not leave the banished uncared for. They receive protection and do not lose their creator-given abilities. But things have changed.

I am not suggesting that people who leave church are banished by God. Although it can feel they have been banished by those who have stayed in Eden. Those are not with us (anymore) are against us. This is not necessarily true for I think there can also be a tinge of envy that they have taken the step. There is also puzzlement as to why they have gone.

Taylor gives the answers and asks the question: what do you hold onto when church no longer provides anything to grasp?

She points out that it is not that we grasp God; God grasps us. She then suggests that it might be helpful to accept that all statements about God are provisional and inept. So it is better to imagine God as what he is not. In other words, we become committed to a relationship with the Divine which is beyond our capacity to define or confine. She writes

Then we find a quiet place where we can talk about what it is like to feel more and more devoted to a relationship that we are less and less able to say anything about.

This sounds attractive to me so:

  1. The quiet place might be a church. But it often is not.
  2. For it needs to be a community of faith who are people who will walk with us, listen to our story without judgement and speak with humility of who or what holds them.

Yet I fear that she is writing about people who will not read her book because they have already gone and are not looking back; but she may help a few who are on the point of leaving to not fear the step.

There is life after Eden.

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2 thoughts on “Go with the blessing of the God you could not reach

  1. Thank you for this as someone who has indeed stepped out of Eden and constantly looks for connections to stay accountable and updated on new Christian thinking in line with modern day culture.

    • Hi Moriel
      Good to hear from you. I warm to your word accountable. It is not the case as you illustrate that people who ‘leave church’ therefore have left faith or the search for community in faith. They seek accountability but not wishing the organised patterns of religion. There is lost of this going on. People seek out communities like the Iona Or Northumbrian Communities and live their rule. Others I have met have joined traditional monastic communities like the Fransicans as lay members. Others of us live a pattern of attendance,occasionally at a communion service or at evensong or weekday morning prayer.
      I struggle to find British authors who doing what you ask but I think Rabbi Joanthan Sacks tries and so does Tom Wright. But to misuse a cinematic: stay well, you are not alone.
      j

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