Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Seventh Letter

Grave at Burrishoole
Dearest Ireland,

In the seven weeks we've been together this summer, I can't seem to pass a ruined abbey or crumbling roadside church without feeling anxious to stop and have a look. Doc and I ramble through the debris (sometimes side-by-side and sometimes we lose each other)  touching, climbing, trampling, always inhaling the historic scent of decay and wondering what happened here. We love doing this...especially in places that seem lost.... without visitor centers or marks on the tourist maps.

For me it provides a type of spiritual nourishment that I'm not used to. For most of my Christian life, I've been fed a diet of gospel Cheerios (don't laugh).  It's the kind of teaching that comes in a pretty package, is easily chewed and digested and is fortified with theology that has been supposedly tested and proven to promote moral strength and personal well-being.  But middle age and widowhood (not to mention the morning news) have left me feeling depleted and light-headed, like I really need some red meat to assume the challenges of this second half of my life.
Grangefertagh Church

When I read scripture, particularly the words of Jesus, I sense a disconnect between what he said and lived, and what I've always accepted as truth. Jesus said the world will hate us like it hated him, because of our unreasonable goodness that compels us to turn the other cheek when slapped and give freely to those who steal from us.  He said we shouldn't judge each other but rather walk shoulder to shoulder with our arms interlocked for mutual support.

Burrishoole Abbey 15th Century
But what if the world hates us because it feels hated by us? What if we Christians make others feel small and insignificant and unlovable? What if we are kind to our friends, but plot ways to bring down our enemies? What if we dismiss the weak who struggle to find a voice and tear down everyone who doesn't agree with our smug conclusions?

 What if the real meaning of Jesus' message is so radical that it's been obscured over time or suppressed by our own self-righteousness and fears, so we think we're following in his steps,  but we're really trailing along behind him obliterating the path? What if, as theologian Brian McLaren has proposed, we are reading the Bible like a constitution that tells us what to do and not to do, and missing the whole point of what God is revealing about himself?

It's doing me good to be in a land with a different Christian tradition than my own. Doc and I passed a monastery the other day (one that wasn't in ruins, for a change) and decided to stop and check it out. We inadvertently walked in on the last few minutes of the mass. There was only a handful of old monks there, chanting the "Our Father", praying and worshiping without much fanfare.....so quiet and reverent and so very different from the mega church media productions that are common in the states. I wondered if their hearts were full of praise to God, or if they were just going through the motions like I have so many times.

Regardless, I'm happy to be in this place where Christian history is so rich and accessible. This weekend Doc and I are going on a guided pilgrimage walk in the steps of St. Patrick and early Celtic believers. I think that can mean different things to different people. For me, dear Ireland, it will be another chance to learn from the past and ponder.


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