Chaplet of Mercy

For a number of years during the 90’s until a couple years ago, I used to escape to Ephphatha house, a small Catholic community, and take part in the daily Chaplet of Mercy and Liturgy of Hours. We were a sparse and motley group, aging and bent, a few scattered misfits.

We sat in silence. When the Chaplet began we repeated at length, “For the sake of your infinite passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” Voices, some halting, some frail, some not, made a foray upon the void. But so weak and hollow and barren and seemingly parochial was this whole effort that I despaired for the survival of Ephphatha into next week.

Leaving, I felt emptier than I did when I came. Maybe that’s not completely accurate, it’s more like I felt the familiar longing more deeply. My emptiness became emptier. But I kept going back. It remained one witness to the resurrection. It also somehow sharped my desire for God and displayed for me a kind of spiritual poverty, and curiously, hope crept in.

While I was there I remember thinking that I would feel embarrassed to bring someone from our church here. I thought that odd but upon reflection it’s probably because there so little here, or so little “here” here.

I wouldn’t counsel anyone to go to Ephphatha. Places like these need to be “personally” found. But it still strikes me as weird to think that the Christian church has these places that are apparently “other” to each other. Ephphatha is a different climate; almost pain inducing in its “uselessness”, yet for me, it was necessary.

Jean Sulivan Iconoclast

“I would like to believe that the “childhood” of Christendom is over, that it is breaking away from ideology and legalism, no longer emphasizing concepts–the western representation of things–tearing down its doctrinal scaffolding, or at least keeping it at a distance, something for specialists, and becoming at once more feeble and more strong, more apt to express itself in terms of our common anthropological foundation.”

The forgoing is a quote by priest and writer Jean Sulivan (1913-1980). I came across Sulivan’s quote in Gil Bailie’s amazing book “Violence Unveiled”. Bailie follows this up by saying, “One of the many paradoxes with which Christians must wrestle, is the fact that, by its very nature, a “pro-Christian position is antithetical to the spirit of the gospel.”

The great distressing problem too many of us Christians have, particularly us western Christians, is that we don’t see the paradox. We don’t see that a “Christian rally” is anti-gospel.

Just another reason to consider the call to “non-Christianity”.

Grow Mercy

Therefore be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful. (Luke 6)

It’s not just the driven people who worship at shrines of self-expectation. We all have laws that we manage to set just beyond reach and reason. We don’t do this consciously. Somehow, by the time we notice, we’ve already been operating by them for years. They’re just there, inherited. They accuse us when ever we let up. And we twist ourselves out of shape racing away from them or rigidly adhering to them, which in the end amounts to the same thing. They remain in control.

Hope Mission, as part of our Spring Banquet celebration is honouring the Graduates of our Addiction Treatment program. There’s a good chance that the people we will hear from tonight have learned that the way through this double-bind is self-mercy. And it’s also a good chance they’ve learned it the long way. Learned as well that growing mercy is a life-long process. Learned that it goes hand in hand with God’s ever-present mercy and the mercy of others which is very nearly the same thing.

We can’t be perfect, that is, “perfect” in the vernacular. I’m not sure, but I think the perfection mentioned in the Bible is of a different variety. We can aim for excellence–a good thing–but we tend to let our aim harden into a crust that is again impervious to mercy. And when we inevitably fail to live up to ourselves, or the perceived expectations of others, we stuff justifications into the gaps and become prickly.

We need a very large garden of mercy to wander in until our prickly hearts soften, until the inner knots slacken and release. The garden needs tending but don’t over water or over weed. It grows on its own, offering possibilities.

We never really know about gardens. They’re a mystery. Except that God likes to wander in them in the evening.

So as you go…clear out the clutter you can, but accept a bit of litter in your life. Allow yourself to be angry at injustice. Visit a friend who really knows you. Have tea on a patio. Buy a mouth-harp. Find a stone or a piece of wood, rub the dirt off and carry it in your pocket. Remember the place you picked it up. Listen to real slow bluegrass…visit your garden in the evening…and grow mercy.

Called to be Non-Christian

I wonder if some “Christians” are called to be non-Christians, even atheists?

This is not a new idea, just one I’m willing to play with because of the Copernican shift (in my mind at least) my theology has taken. Or rather, the shift I have been swept up in–from fundamentalist theology to an anthropology of God.

Sure, the question as a kind of trope. But the call to be a non-Christian is not that bazaar. If you’ve been going to an Evangelical church, or a Catholic church or any conservative church that attaches a degree of gravitas to their tradition (not necessarily a bad thing), you can, using a bit of imagination, feel the indignation that the Pharisee’s would have felt when their “liturgical” systems were being flouted by Jesus and his followers. To the Pharisee’s, Jesus and his band were “non-Christians”.

Is it possible that our loyalty to the atonement system; a prescribed loyalty through fundamentalist and Anselmian weaning, (St. Anselm is generally seen as the formulator of subsitutionary atonement doctrine.) is of the same order as the strict pietism and traditionalism of the Pharisees?

So it may be that we are called to be non-Christians for a time. And as people who no longer see God as sacrificial, we are also atheists of a sort.

But really, the only important thing in all of this is the continual waking up to our own complicity in the sacrificial system. And this awakening often requires heart breaking self-honesty. Which is Christ-ianity.