One of the prison conversations yesterday began with a discussion of the difference between the apophatic (Via Negativa) and the kataphatic (Via Affirmativa). (Yes, there are some serious conversations among inmates.) The conversation then seemed to gravitate to whether the harmful and unkind actions of the church over and through history were because of ignorance (trying unskillfully to protect people from destructive consequences following behavior) or, whether there was an element of evil intent to the murderous punishment inflicted on women and men running afoul the power structure. Personally, I wanted just to talk about the contemplative tradition and how it differed in the catholic and protestant traditions -- but the conversations just go where they want to go.
Something about the headline and the article -- along with this morning's conversation after morning practice with an Irish curmudgeon, begged the last two days' summary.
So I posted this response to the Bangor Daily article. It felt like it came from many men.
It feels as if the time for penance has past. It feels as if the time for the church has slipped away. It further feels as if the Bishop and his advisers think that such public acts of penance somehow clear the air and set things right -- in the same way that there's a belief that remunerative payoffs somehow square things out. They don't.
In 1964, Jean Anouilh's play "Becket ou l'honneur de Dieu" (Becket or The Honor of God) was made into a film, starring Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton. In the opening scene King Henry (O'Toole) was being publicly flogged for his part in the demise of Bishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket (Burton). It was a show within a show, good form, necessary price, done and left behind.
The show of contrition, I submit, is best done in private. Forgiveness is not a spectacle. Reconciliation is not a political play.
I recall fondly the church of my youth. I've come to mistrust it, unfortunately, as one might mistrust a long history of inconsiderate behavior, arrogance, deprecation of women, hoarding of gracious humility, and failure to embrace expansive and inclusive communion with all who long to experience the Christ of cosmic and sacramental presence. How the church can try to make of Christ a private club with rigid membership requirements -- eludes me.
I've long ago accepted and thought I'd forgiven the church it's flaws. The more difficult part is comprehending the continuing hubris of its administrators their perpetuating a rubric of "sin" and "not worthy" to our brothers and sisters who are outsiders, gay, divorced, open to birth control, or experienced the distress of abortion.
Say it as often as you will -- neither the Catholic Church, the Protestant denominations, nor any other group claiming to represent Christ -- none of these, no one, can separate us from the love of God, the touch of Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit, or the inner heart of each human being. It is that love, and that love alone, that will bring to peace all those excluded or abused, as well as those who exclude or abuse -- not, I hold, not payoff money or public shows of penance or any other public relations gambit.
Rather, invite people in to the heart of divine love, share the Eucharist, step out of posturing separations, and live ordinary lives of compassion and kindness, mercy and acceptance. Then, and only then, will we know that the church is not dead. And if it has slipped away, let's see to it that the proper obsequies are observed for something, someone, once loved.These men were like lovers who'd lost their love yet have to speak of what had gone. Part anger, part wistfulness, a dash of disappointment, a clarity of irretrievable departure. I sat alone in the middle of the prison pod while a lock-in ran its course and the cells were open once again -- whatever the cause of the increased security having passed. I thought of the irony. Where else could the fierce conclusions of recognized aggression and lamentable recollection look out and see patterns of behavior in another institution known so well in their youth?
My doctrine is to think the thought that is unthinkable, to practice the deed that is non-doing, to speak the speech that is inexpressible, and to be trained in the discipline that is beyond discipline.
Those who understand this are near; those who are confused are far. The Way is beyond words and expressions, is bound by nothing earthly. Lose sight of it to an inch, or miss it for a moment and we are away from it forevermore. (--Sutra of Forty Two Chapters, Dailyzen.com)The Irishman was cutting wood by the woodpile to frame the upstairs wall for bathroom. He noticed the sign I clamped to the meetingbrook sign at foot of driveway. He read it, "Quaker Meeting, Sundays 9AM-10AM, All Welcome" -- then he added, "Shhh, don't say a word!"