Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Small Rant Against Pop Spirituality

Proper 6b.Trinity.Reno
Virtually everything Jesus said or did
was meant to show that the Kingdom is as near to us as our next breath, and that’s good news.
But he never said exactly what the Kingdom is.
He couldn’t say what it is because it’s a mystery
– something beyond the reach of our mind.
So Jesus would say the Kingdom is like this in one way,
and it is like that in another way.

When we piece together all of Jesus’ teachings,
we can tell a few things about the Kingdom.
First, it isn’t where we go when we die.
I’m not saying we don’t go to heaven.
I’m just saying life after death isn’t what Jesus means
by the Kingdom.
It’s not about the afterlife.

The Kingdom is a radically different social, economic, and political order.
But it is also a different orientation of the heart.
And the two go together.
For Jesus, social justice and spirituality go hand in hand.
You can’t do one without the other.

Today I want to focus on the spirituality side of it.
The Kingdom is a spiritual state in which we don’t obey God
out of fear of punishment or hope for reward.
We don’t obey God because we want to keep our conscience clean,
feel good about ourselves, and get a good night’s sleep.

Being in the Kingdom means we do the will of God spontaneously.
Our wills are aligned with the will of God.
Our heart beat is synchronized with the heart of God.
And we find ourselves in harmony with the universe.

But how do we get there?
There are so many products for sale in the spiritual supermarket,
all promising to put us in the groove.
40 days of purpose; 7 habits of highly effective people;
this meditation; that prayer retreat; primal scream,
baptism in the Spirit, born again experience.
There are more spiritual concoctions on the market
than pharmaceuticals on the shelves.

Spirituality is big business.
Not many people are religious anymore,
but everyone is spiritual.
It was all foretold by the 1960’s rock and roll prophet Joe South.
Some of you may remember his lyrics,
“People walkin’ up to ya
Shoutin’ glory hallelujah
While they try to sock it to ya
In the name of the Lord.

They’ll teach your how to meditate
Read your horoscope and cheat your fate . . .” and so on.

All these spiritual techniques have their good points.
A lot of them can be helpful.
But there’s also something about them a little off kilter.
It’s a certain self-centeredness.
Do you know any of those really spiritual people
who are always so serene
and they smile at you in that patronizing way,
you just want to hit them?

There is something pretentious about a lot of spirituality.
Whether it’s ancient Eastern spirituality or New Age spirituality
or Christian spirituality, it doesn’t quite ring true
when we are too focused on it,
when it gets to be about our experience
or how enlightened or integrated or whatever it is
we have become.
So look what Jesus says in today’s lesson.
“The Kingdom of God is as if someone scattered seed on the ground
and would sleep and rise night and day,
and the seed would sprout and grow.
He does not know how.”

I love that last line, “He does not know how.”
The Kingdom of God is as if someone scattered seed on the ground.
He didn’t even plant it. He didn’t plow first. He didn’t fertilize.

He just scattered some seed -- then forgot it
and went about his business.
One day, he looked back and darned if it hadn’t
sprouted up into a crop. Go figure.
He did not know how.

When I was young I used to want a spiritual technology.
Eat this. Don’t eat that. Recite this prayer.
Stand on your head. Breathe in one nostril and out the other.
Do it for three months and you’ll be in some sort of state.
And you can do that, but it isn’t the Kingdom.
It’s your own personal accomplishment.
You can brag about it to your friends.
That’s how you know it isn’t the Kingdom.

Now I’m not against spiritual practices and disciplines.
Some of them are quite helpful. I still do a few myself.
They lower the blood pressure
and make me more patient with priests.

But Jesus is talking about something God does in our lives.
We can’t manufacture it.
We can’t conjure it up with the right techniques.

All we can do is scatter the seed.
Now I don’t honestly know what that means.
It could mean read a little Bible, say a few prayers,
do an act of kindness once in awhile.
From what I’ve seen watching spiritual lives for a few decades,
that looks to me like the kind of thing
that can pop up into a crop.
But you can’t do those things to make something happen.
You just do them, then get on with your business.

Live an ordinary life.
Get your children ready for school. Go to work.
Clean out the gutters on your roof.

And while you are not looking,
the Kingdom of God will sprout up in your life.
How does that work? We don’t know.
We don’t know because we don’t do it.
God does it. It’s a gift.

Let me borrow a story from Zen teacher. He said:
A man was in his living room, sitting in lotus position,
meditating on his breath.
He heard his wife in the kitchen doing dishes,
and he thought, “She is not practicing Zen.”
But, the teacher said, it was the wife, not the husband,
who was practicing Zen.

Just so in Christianity,
we can do our spiritual practices and disciplines.
They have their place.
But the Kingdom of God is not something we can build.
It sneaks up on us when we are not looking for it.
The point is to stop trying to be spiritual superstars.
“What does the Lord require of thee?”
Only this: “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
Then just be in this world and let God do what he will in your life.
God is pretty good at what he does. So let him do it.
Meister Eckhart said,
“All God asks is that you get out of the way
and let God be God in you.”

The top of the line spiritual experience
in Catholic Christianity is a vision of the Virgin Mary.
St. Theresa of Avila was abbess of convent.
One night a nun came to see her in great joy
saying, “Reverend Mother I have seen a vision
of the Blessed Virgin.”
St. Theresa responded, “Just keep praying. It will go away.”

I sometimes go on retreat at a Carmelite hermitage
that has a sign at the entrance.
It says, “No fuss.”
“No fuss.” Just live and let God live in you.

God really is quite good at life.
We don’t have to do anything special.

We can live the most ordinary life you can imagine
but if God is in it, that life will be sacred – truly sacred
in the deepest, most genuine way.
No fuss, just holy.