I was recently asked, “What disturbs you most about the Episcopal Church today?” That is certainly a broad question and can be answered at a number of levels as even a cursory search of the internet reveals.
The easiest and, it seems, the most common way of answering that question is at a surface level of symptoms – the church is declining in numbers, there are no young families, it is too liberal, it is not Biblically centered, it acts unilaterally, it is not relevant, it conforms itself to the world. The list can go on and on and, I suspect, will go on and on as long as we try to answer that question, relate to each other, and be the Church of the twenty-first century at a superficial level of symptoms.
The more difficult work is to deepen not only the conversation, but also deepen our lives. The Church does not necessarily need smarter, better behaving, or even more faithful people (though that could not hurt). The Church needs people of depth willing to do their interior work and live from the inside out, people who are willing to encounter God as Divine Mystery, the great I Am.
What disturbs me most about the Episcopal Church today, and perhaps even society in general, is that we have somehow forgotten, lost, or minimized God as Divine Mystery. The effects of this loss are profound and numerous both individually and corporately:
- We legislate instead of doing good theology, a work that the early church always understood to be grounded in a life of prayer. “A theologian is one who prays truly and one who prays truly is a theologian” (Evagrius of Pontus).
- Our corporate life has become superficial and distracted by controversy. Too often we now live as bodies of Christians instead of as the Body of Christ.
- Refusing to trust the silence, we talk about God more than we listen to God.
- Unwilling to see the mystery of humanity created in the image and likeness of God, we talk about one another instead of talking to one another.
- We seek reasons and excuses for our life instead of proclaiming the life of Christ that is in us.
- Our sacramental life often becomes routine and repetitious instead of revelatory, healing, and transformative.
- The middle ground of common prayer has given way to sides, positions, and agendas.
- We are quick to act, judge, and label but slow to sit, be quiet, and be still.
- We read, analyze, and interrogate scripture instead of trusting scripture to read, analyze, and interrogate our lives.
- We work to control behavior and ignore the heart that needs to be healed.
- We seek and settle for answers instead of opening ourselves to transformation through participation in the life of the Holy Trinity.
- Ultimately, we take ourselves more seriously than we take God.
Taken together all of this suggests that at some level we live, albeit unconsciously, with the notion that God is absent which, according to Father Thomas Keating, is the fundamental illusion of the human condition. In some way to lose or forget the Divine Mystery is to lose God. And if we lose God we lose ourselves and each other.
How then do we begin to recover God as Divine Mystery? How do we live below the surface and become people of depth. I certainly do not claim to have done this or to have the answers but I find the words of Abba Sisoes to be instructive, full of wisdom and truth:
“Seek God, and do not seek where he dwells.”