Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Great Emergence

I've been reading Phyllis Tickle's book The Great Emergence, with my skeptic heart engaged and as open as I can pry it, and the book has definitely resonated with me. Resonated is a word I would like to not allow myself, but there it is. I'm involved in all sorts of new ways of thinking and being because of the monastery-- right now I've been grappling with what they mean by "discernment." There is even a "discernment process" used by the monastery for making large decisions, that involves going in and out of group discussion/feedback and individual contemplation. And I think it works for the community, if it works, because these women pray the Liturgy of the Hours and are engaged in daily lectio divina, contemplative reading of Scripture. This practice builds in them a present-consciousness and awareness the likes of which I've never seen-- and which I've seen and remarked on quite regularly in the Benedictine monastics I know. It makes for an incredibly tuned-in community of fierce, smart women.

Today I read chapter 4, and at the end of the chapter she names the "essential questions" of our time, a time of upheaval in the underlying systems of meaning that have guided Western humanity for the past 500 years, questions that we ask because of Darwin, Faraday, Freud, Jung, Einstein and more recently Joseph Campbell. The three essential questions are:
"1: Where, now, is the authority?...
2:What is human consciousness and/or the humanness of the human?
3: What is the relation of all religions to one another-- or, put another way, how can we live responsibly as devout and faithful adherents of one religion in a world of many religions?" (Tickle, pp. 72-73).

Well, I thought to myself, those are the three central questions addressed in my second book of poetry. Those are exactly the questions that I've been thinking about and asking myself about for most of my life-- certainly since I was twelve years old and we converted overnight from Catholicism to the Assemblies of God. And, in fact, the authority question is the one question hanging over all the women's religious orders of the United States at the moment, because Rome is attempting through an Apostolic Visitation what seems to be a "slap down" of their individual authority for what seems like no good reason at all. And personally, not speaking here in any way for the monastery or any of its members, I suspect Rome has overstepped and will find out that the "people in the pews" don't care what Rome thinks. I think it will be, if not the end, a blow to that particular authority. And don't take my word for it-- read the 420 comments posted to the New York Times front page coverage of the Apostolic Visitation and two other investigations and criticisms of women religious by American bishops and Rome.

In the discernment process, the community is asking: "What do you believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to given what we know?" It is a question that can only lead to boldness, I think, in facing the future and in walking into whatever new world we find ourselves in.

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