The following are some reflections on the evening of March 26, 2012, at the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul with Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde and Brian McLaren. A good many of us at St. Stephen’s have been reading, along with many others in the Diocese, the book of McLaren’s that Bishop Mariann recommended for Lent, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices.
The evening went very well. Both Brian and the bishop were quite articulate. So were those who asked questions. I continue to be impressed by the depth of our bishop, who seems to strike just the right note. I hear her calling us to a new and deeper level of spiritual experience. McLaren is unpretentious, grounded, hopeful, realistic, and theologically adept, I think.
The point at which the discussion met what is most alive in my own life was when Brian quoted the C. S. Lewis poem giving voice to the truth that God is beyond what we think we “know” of God. I am coming more and more to believe that the practices have to do with “getting us ready” and “keeping us prepared” for encounters with the Divine (in our own lives: where else would we encounter God?). But the practices have little to do with God qua God, except insofar as they might prepare us to see, to feel, to sense, to welcome God when God comes.
I was intrigued by the questioner who asked, “So what is the Christian life really like?” I suspect there is a variety of ways of answering that. To my mind, the five questions following the Creed in the Baptismal Covenant spell out the answer as well as anyone anywhere. Christian life is continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, in the prayers; knowing the difference between good and evil, and repenting whenever we fall into sin; proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ; seeking and serving Christ in all persons loving neighbor as self; striving for justice and peace among all people [and I would add] all creation, respecting the dignity of all creatures. I suppose I see that happening with an attitude characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I hope to manifest those things while living out my baptism. I doubt that I will ever be an expert at patience (though I see slight improvement), ever be known for gentleness (though that depends), nor receive rave reviews for self-control. But I do give myself permission to let myself go completely overboard with being joyful (and that includes the practice of thanksgiving, every day, all day, all the time).
The more I contemplate the person and work of Jesus, the more convinced I am that a good chunk of what he was after was for us to lighten up on ourselves, becoming much more loving and joyful, in the full knowledge that we are forgiven. If I dilute his message, I apologize. I don’t think “lightening up” is all that easily accomplished, but I do think it is a prerequisite to accepting others without reservation.