This week's Sunday Song and Rumination is my "hymn to compost", May Life Live On.
Franciscan and evolutionary academic, Ilia Delio recently wrote a couple of brilliant pieces in response to the sexual abuse cases coming out again in the Catholic church. Her angle is first naming the horror and tragedy and then, that we need to look at this in terms of the dominant worldview that has shaped clerical hierarchy in the first place.
And through that lens, lest the Catholics be the only ones getting the bad rap, as someone whose formative years were predominantly shaped by the protestant world view, I can see how what shaped clerical hierarchy transferred very cleverly into marriage, post reformation. This protestant version of the beast perhaps doesn't prey on altar boys, but it simply morphed in many cases (obviously not all, but neither are priests predators across the board), into entitlement toward one's wife, prostitute, secretary, keyboard playing worship leader, or all of the above.
In one of Ilia's pieces entitled DEATH IN THE CHURCH: IS NEW LIFE AHEAD?, she says:
"Science has greatly shifted our understanding of nature including human nature, biological nature, and physical nature so that every aspect of theological doctrine must be reevaluated in light of evolution and modern physics. Every seminary curriculum should include Big Bang cosmology, evolution, quantum physics, neuroscience, depth psychology, and systems thinking. Incorporating science into seminary education will not preclude abusers but over time the formation of new structural systems that are more consonant with nature as cooperative interdependent systems might allow for greater transparency, interdependency, and accountability."
If we back up even further out of this clerical/male priest hierarchy and the corresponding male pastor hierarchy, we can see so easily then, why we treat all of life the way we do. We separated matter from spirit philosophically and theologically, and we separated science from spirit, and when we do that, there is no end to objectification. The great poet Wendell Berry said in his brilliant essay Christianity and the Survival of Creation, that "the culpability of Christianity in the destruction of the natural world, and the uselessness of Christianity to any effort to correct that destruction, are now established cliches of the conservation movement."
As I look at the way humans and the planet are expressing themselves at this time, I believe earth elders like Joanna Macy when she says (and has been saying for so many years), that we are living in the time of the Great Turning (some have called it the ecological revolution). Joanna observes that first there was the agricultural revolution, then there was the industrial revolution... and now we are at the point where we must turn from an "industrial growth" model toward a "sustaining society" model. But we can't do that if we are still in this "upward" hierarchy that Ilia Delio talks about, vs the new "forward" model she is recommending.
Joanna Macy says of the industrial revolution, "from the systems point of view, it is a doomed political economy, it is a doomed system on runaway, because it is seeking to maximize one part of it, and once you do that with any system, everything goes out of balance."
As a person who has somehow found new life in following Jesus, (through my own very proud, but not very happy theological roof being utterly blown off), I am interested in how whole systems function with/by a certain level of cacophony that allows for more life to thrive, vs the monoculture model we still find ourselves in. The church especially, whether Catholic or Protestant, really has some growing to do ecologically, neurologically, gastronomically, philosophically, spiritually, artistically, culturally and yes... theologically. Because of the "closed system" that Ilia Delio speaks about, theology has become the belligerent, entitled uncle at the Christmas dinner, unable to dialogue unless it is on Uncle Theology's terms. Without the open system, that accepts that change is a part of the picture, we will continue to be a part of the entire problem... including (maybe even especially...) the problem of climate change.
Carl Jung's beautiful way of describing this kind of good growth, the "forward" (generative, future-centric) growth, vs a cancerous, "upward", "bigger is better" (who cares about tomorrow's children) growth, really catches what needs to happen: "We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life's morning, for what was great in the morning will be little in the evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie."
Spiritual growth (moving into the afternoon and evening of one's spiritual journey) for many Christians, is seen as heresy. What if it is simply outgrowing the paradigm of what worked in the morning?
The song I am sharing today is about becoming a part of evolution through a full embodiment of the Christ, and so to become fully alive in this body. No longer severed from my body, no longer ashamed of my body, but from heart to finger and toe tips, I am incarnate with possibility. And when that happens, something else very extraordinary follows: you realize that Christ really does "play in ten thousand places" and it isn't just in the poem. And ironically, through this embodiment, you're able to make peace with death, accepting that one day this very incarnate body will decompose, and go back to the earth. And of course, even when the incarnation isn't conscious, because life is like that, the longing is incarnate, and it brings new life.
Wendell Berry, in his 2013 interview with Bill Moyer said: "The world is maintained every day by the same force that created it. It's an article of my faith and belief... that all creatures live by breathing God's breath and participating in God's spirit. And this means that the whole thing is holy... the whole shootin' match. There are no sacred and unsacred places, there are only sacred and desecrated places."
All of my favourite, most wise, trustworthy teachers say to hope. So even though cynicism is the easiest and greatest temptation, let us hope creatively. Let us hope compassionately. That guy I claim to follow said very drastic things like "leave all things and follow me".
What would happen if we dared to do what we don't dare to do?
May life live on. Amen.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer and recording artist, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on an aspiring permaculture farm on the Canadian prairies.