My thanks to the song, "My Back Pages," originally written and recorded by Bob Dylan and later done by The Byrds (I have both on iTunes). This song provided inspiration for a meditation I did earlier this morning, and I recommend either version for some thoughtful reflection....especially for us Boomers.
There are some questions that just need not be asked. The reason for this is that there are no true, definitive answers. This was brought home to me in a recent conversation with my friend and confidant, Rainbow Mooon (her actual name...no misspellings...a story not mine to tell). There are five valid types of questions to ask in any given situation: Who, What, When, Where & How. Any question framed in those five categories will provide concrete data. The missing question type is, Why.
To ask a "why" question seems fundamental to our nature from the time we are old enough to speak and gather information around us. We who are parents well remember the incessant, "But why mommy/daddy?" to any of our directions or instructions. We often ended it in frustration by stating, "because I am your mom/dad and said so, that's why." So, the nature of command and authority begin to be ingrained in our inquisitive child.
What's wrong with a "why" question anyway? Simply put: There is no true data to support an answer. The ultimate "why" of anything is a mystery. In parish ministry, the most common question to come to a priest is in the form of "why." Most of the time, it is a misuse of language. What the asker means is one of the other five types of questions. Example: "Why do we have to do premarital counseling?" Really, it is a "what" question. "What rules or authority guides your requirement that we have premarital counseling?"
So, you think I am parsing the language too thinly here? Not so fast. Using the example above. If one followed the string created by the "why" question of premarital counseling, one would have to take in the entire history of canon law; the data that supports the experiences of countless marriages and pastoral preparations; the moral and ethical standards of couples actually lying in order to facilitate their marriage in the Church (happens all the time folks...especially these days); and a host of other factors that may be lost to us. This does not even take into consideration the non-spatial reality of the Holy Spirit's engagement in the process of Christian Marriage. The answer, "Because I am the Rector and the Church says so," doesn't cut it in truth. In fact, the "what" of this example is the very fact that the Canons of the Church require it, and I, as the Rector, am charged by my bishop to enforce said Canons. That's what guides the decision.
Applying a geometric approach: Our use of "why" questions is precipitated by linear thinking, which is "cause and effect." In asking "why," one expects to have a "because" answer that follows a logical, linear path. If one cannot answer definitively, then one is not doing his/her job or is incompetent in that job. Church Vestries (or boards) are masters at demanding answers to why something isn't working, or why numbers aren't up. I have never, in 33 years found the real answer to that question to be satisfying to any Vestry member. In fact, I stopped answering "why" questions altogether some years ago. That really pissed people off. However, the answer, "because it seemed right to the Holy Spirit to not go in that direction..." (or some equally biblically sound but seemingly nebulous answer) created a room full of glazed over eyes. The true agnosticism of the modern Church comes out in those moments. Not pretty. So, I would simply remain quiet or say, "I have no response to that at this time." Better for leadership to be seething with anger rather than risking the exposure of a shallow spirituality. I gave them the former "out."
To complete the geometric approach, the five authentic types of questions have a constellation of approaches in achieving an answer. They are questions that create and sustain community ownership and challenge relational integrity. Parishes often go through priests almost as fast as the NFL and NCAA go through head football coaches. The "why" blames a person, whereas the other five types of questions call the entire system to accountability. We are a scapegoat people.
While recently at Mayo Clinic for a consult and tests on my right shoulder, I picked up the most recent "Spirituality and Health" magazine. One of the regular contributors is Thomas Moore. Moore is a theologian, former Roman Catholic monk, therapist and writer. He is most widely known for his ground breaking work, "Care of the Soul." He has just published a new book, "Care of the Soul in Medicine." I had noted some material of his in one of the Mayo departments during my moving around for tests.
Moore's article was entitled, "Natural Mysticism." His premise is that institutional religion is diminishing. He cites a number of factors but summarizes by stating, "I believe and hope that the objectifying, mechanistic, materialistic, disenchanting, fully secular philosophy that has dominated much of modern life is ending." He had already stated that the Church (as a total tradition) had bought into this, and the world is passing it by.
What replaces this? According to Moore, a mystical approach the likes of which has not yet been seen (not a return to a past experience). He acknowledges, in another article, that a profound shift has already taken place in created order. This shift in energy is much like going from digital to HD. It is subtle, but powerful.
When I was a young adult student of theology and a new priest, I believed I did have all the answers...neatly bundled and based on all I had learned up to the point of my ordination. I lived in that heady fog of assurance for quite some time. Just ask me "why," and I could give you assured reasons and the books to prove my points.
Along the way, I have come to realize that the mystical way, described by Thomas Moore as being the causal and sacred spaces behind and just underneath our spatial based reality. We might think of mysticism as some kind of easy, fluffy, puffy kind of spirituality. In fact, the natural mystical experience is "the most grounded, intelligent and challenging kind" of spirituality (quote is Thomas Moore the the above cited article).
I was seemingly so much older and wiser at the beginning of this journey. I am younger than that now. The freshness of seeing the world as sacred space holding our reality ever so tenderly and surrounding it lovingly has given me a broader perspective and a deeper appreciation for the life I have been given. To ask "why" is to enter this mystery and to create a balance with it and the daily world in which we live. It is the tradition of Meister Ekhart, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, Henry David Thoreau, and many more who could see where we were heading and dared to give us a peek.
Now is the time of our awakening!
In the Joy of the Nativity of Christ Jesus,