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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anchored in God

I haven't posted much lately, I see -- even forgot to put up my latest summer post from Episcopal Cafe -- Here it is, to get me re-started, and perhaps motivate me to write something else that's been "brewing"

also on episcopal cafe

In several different contexts over the past month, I’ve been brought up short again by this quotation from Evelyn Underhill’s The Spiritual Life. She writes: “a spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the centre, where we are anchored in God.” It came up at the annual Quiet Day in honor of Evelyn Underhill, at Washington National Cathedral, and at a conference I was leading on Poetry and the Journey toward God, where we listened for the ways that poems can be an invitation, an opening, a first step into prayer-- into what Mary Oliver calls “a silence in which/ another voice may speak.” Underhill invites readers to think about people they’ve known either personally or through the tradition who reflected this confidence -- insisting that this life from the center is available to “normal people”; it is not some kind of superhuman spiritual achievement.

That same image of the anchor comes up in a spiritual we sing sometimes at my home parish, a hymn by Mother Jones that says what we all know about what we need -- particularly timely nowadays:
“In times likes these, we need a Saviour;
in times like these, we need an anchor
I’m very sure, I’m very sure
My anchor holds, upon the so-lid-rock.

(If you know the tune you’ll recognize how the tune and the meter leave us “anchored” in the rock, who is Jesus).

The anchor image is a good one, actually, because it suggests that even though we may drift, we ultimately know where we are, and there is a place we can get back to. And the spiritual life, considered as an integral part of our journey of faith and mission, is about grounding all that we do in the love and power of a reality beyond our inventions, prejudices, even righteous political positions , and a justice and mercy beyond our own making. Perhaps a fruitful direction for meditation is this: what causes me to drift away from where I am anchored? And what brings me up short, and pulls me back? This anchor image reflects a solidity of faith that many of us yearn for in ourselves and in our leaders. How do we get back to that, individually and collectively? And what sets us adrift?

So often our discussions of church life, governance, mission, and denominational politics seem to lose track of this kind of vision -- to reflect more familiar cultural values of marketing, institutional survival, or for leaders, personal mental health and self-care. Somewhere recently (Was it on the CafĂ©? I can’t remember.) I even ran across some discussion about how church leaders and clergy find they may not believe in God any more, and that’s just how it is (though we can be reassured that even if clergy have a crisis of faith this does not affect the validity of the sacraments). I’ve been musing about how often, in the privacy of a spiritual direction conversation, people have been relieved but surprised when I’ve raised the question: “so where is God in all this?” Something makes us forget to ask this question, whatever image that word “God” carries for us. It has become almost a commonplace that spiritual burnout is an inevitable outcome of ministry -- but I keep asking myself, why do we settle for this? Don’t we believe that there is something on offer in the life of faith? Some centering point that can draw us back to what is most real to us? At some point in most of our lives, someone’s centered faith helped bring us into the life of the church to begin with. So why is it so hard to keep track of that “centre, where we are anchored in God?”

I’m just raising the question, today. I suppose (and hope) that for many readers this will all seem obvious, perhaps not worth mentioning, but I’ve been brought up short by that quote from Underhill, and that “anchor” image, enough times lately to wonder whether there is something there worthy of continued meditation. Since genuine faith is usually “caught” rather than “taught,” I am wondering what the church would look like if more of us in leadership paid closer attention to where our faith is “anchored, ” and to what it takes for us, in our own particular lives, to relocate and find our center, in a quiet, undramatic, and “normal” way. The answers will be different for each person, but I think they’re good questions, and they’ve been helpful to my own meditations over this past month.

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