Today I feel distinctly like Linus, the Peanuts character who battles to cope without his blanket. Last night I read Moy Hitchen’s thought-provoking reflection on ‘this new thing’ that the Munnar Chapter challenged us to embrace. And whilst there has been a growing awareness of ‘this new thing’ in my life for some time now, I have still clung to the old. I do this because my livelihood is largely generated in this old paradigm. Letting-go will require the courage to embrace what Moy refers to as ‘the End-of-the-World-as-we’ve-known-it.’
As a young anthropology student, I read Victor Turner’s classic, The Ritual Process. I didn’t appreciate it much then but now I find that it’s helping me make sense of my turmoil. We live today in an age of transition, in which traditional ways of thinking and living are passing away, yet new ways have not yet been found to replace them. This generates doubt and confusion and, above all, a sense of profound dissatisfaction. And I’ve been tempted to cling to my arrogant certitudes rather than grapple with the paradoxes and tensions of the search. In the Ritual Process Turner outlines three distinctive phases that characterise cultural evolution:
So I applied this model to my current spiritual dilemma and I met with a few startling truths. Of late, there have been a series of disconcerting events which have affirmed my suspicion that I have separated from my established cultural position. And I’ll share just two of the most recent ones. Whilst these significant events have left me feeling a little sad and disorientated, I am also aware that something new is emerging within me. It’s as though I’ve put on a new pair of spectacles and things look completely different.
A couple of weeks ago my loving offspring told me to stop faking it and accept that “the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes”. I’ve always felt quite smug that my rather large family filled an entire pew at the local parish church. I basked in the admiring gazes of all the poor women who attended Mass sans husbands and children. If truth be told, it isn’t such a regular occurrence these days but it happens often enough to save my self-righteous church-going image. But this was all shattered a couple of Sundays ago, by my precious 16 year-old autistic boy. He finds the Sunday Mass obligation very tedious and his irreverent siblings, who should be supporting him, believe strongly in the justice principle which underpins family life. “Listen kid, we had to sit through it; you can do the same.” Drawing from my maternal wisdom I responded, “Darling, we visit God’s house to show God how much we love God.” And because that didn’t transform his sullen expression, I resorted to: “Church is only an hour long and if you’re good, we’ll give you nice treat.” His innocent response took me by surprise: “I don’t like God’s house. Tell God to come to our house instead.” To which the siblings replied, “Sure makes a lot of sense, Mom.”
I realised then that I could be dealing with the beginnings of a family uprising which I blame on CNN’s intensive coverage of the Egyptian protest. I laid on my most aggrieved mother expression and pleaded, “Come guys, this is important to us…”, but before I could finish, my daughter, who had emerged as the leader of the coup, interjected, “No, Mom, it is important to you. That’s why we all go along with it. Dad too. But I’m not sure that you know why it’s important to you anymore.” It was a sad but truthful moment for me. Despite my noble intentions, I had not created a life-giving faith experience for my family. It might have had meaning at some stage, but that no longer held true for any of us. Together we are going to have to find new ways to navigate and celebrate our life journey. And that is going to take courage.
The second traumatic occurrence revolved around a charism workshop that I presented in one of our Christian Brothers’ schools recently. Along with Michael Burke I’m facilitating a series of charism workshops intended to share the Edmund Rice vision with our schools. We look at how the story of Jesus and the story of Edmund informs and forms the vision and mission of the Edmund Rice school today. In trying to impart a more real and radical version of Jesus, I shared a beautiful video excerpt from Deepak Chopra’s Third Jesus.This was followed by discussion. The staff seemed a little apathetic but certainly not hostile. So I was totally gobsmacked when I got a call from a Catholic friend to inform me that the staff had found the workshop very unsettling - both fundamental Christians and conservative Catholics were affronted by Deepak Chopra - and that any further work I intended doing in the school would need to be vetted. And then it dawned on me that this was not the first time my workshops had evoked this response. Up until fairly recently, I would present talks and lectures at the parish RCIA programme, the Baptismal preparation course, Confirmation evenings, etc, but somewhere along the line the word had got out that my understanding of the Kingdom of God was not quite in line with mainstream Church thinking. I was being sidelined.
This realisation saddened me as I’ve always believed that I’ve promoted the work of the Church. How do I continue to work in the field of Religious Education and Catechesis? Can I be authentic and inoffensive at the same time. For the very first time, I’m considering working outside the field of Catholic Education because I don’t know how to manage this emerging ‘God-consciousness’ within the formal Catholic domain. I don’t have the support of a religious community or a wisdom circle. I believe that I’m wading through the liminal period that Victor Turner refers to. The ‘betwixt and between’ time. A time of tension between the push and the pull factors. A time of growing pains.
But how can we - as an Edmund Rice Network - support, nurture, and hold our fellow seekers in this precarious space? Most of us live and work in the secular world and have limited access to spiritual resources and formation. And, more personally, how do I support those nearest and dearest to me? Despite their tender years, my children have recognised that Catholic fundamentalism will not quench their spiritual thirst. Do I acknowledge that they have a strong value base and relinquish them to the world of rationalism and secularism? I don’t want them to reject all that is beautiful and life-giving about Catholicism.
How do we consciously move towards aggregation and make meaning out of ‘this new thing’. Can we synergise and harness the energies that will bring us closer to the ‘tipping point’? At the moment I feel like one of the ‘Good Friday’ women, just so sad and disappointed. And while I know that I will, in time, be able to rejoice in the true awareness that the Resurrection brings, I first need to mourn the loss of my blanket.
ERN Co-ordinator, Southern Africa