Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spirituality is Relational

My orientation, and my bias, is toward spiritual practice and ecumenical dialogue. This week has been a roller coaster ride in seeing the good and the bad. In all of it it I was reminded that any meaningful and authentic life is one lived in relationship with others and that any spirituality will likewise be relational. 

Here are the three "events" for me over the past week.  

I.                 Reporting a Culture of Abuse

On Monday, I read more about the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church. You have probably heard of the film, Spotlight, "The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core." I have heard good things about the movie, though I haven't seen it yet. Our local diocesan newspaper, One Voice, which is rather conservative, ran an article about the film. The title of the article was, “Spotlight is not anti-Catholic, Vatican newspaper says.”  On the same page they ran another news item about yet more sexual abuse at a Catholic school in Pennsylvania. Both articles were from the Catholic News Service.

 The article about Spotlight observed:

"it is now clear that too many in the church were more worried about the image of the institution than the seriousness of the act."

"All of this cannot justify the very grave crime of one, who as a representative of God, uses this prestige and authority to take advantage of the innocent," the article said.

The film, in fact, shows the kind of devastation wrought on victims when "they don't even have a God to plead with anymore, to ask for help," it said.

The second article related to a case in Altoona, Pennsylvania, “Report:Priests abused hundreds of kids in Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.” The opening lines reported:

Hundreds of children were sexually abused over at least 40 years by priests and other religious leaders in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, a statewide grand jury found.

At least 50 priests or religious leaders were involved in the abuse and diocesan leaders systematically concealed the abuse to protect the church's image, according to a grand jury report released March 1 by Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane.

Even after at least 15 years of increasing awareness of the scandal, as a Catholic convert, I find it shocking and incredible that what I can only call "a culture of abuse" has existed within the church. Even with the distressing news of new allegations in Pennsylvania, I see it as a sign of hope that it is being reported rather than ignored in our diocesan paper. A tenuous hope, some may say, but I must also acknowledge the positive aspects of our community of faith. At least more of our society is aware of the problem which hopefully will lead to better protection of our children. (To read a poem I wrote on the subject in 2002, “Slowly God Arises,” go here)

II.             Responding to A Culture of Hate

Being Muslim in Alabama panel discussion
(Photo from Over the Mountain Democrats Facebook page)

On Wednesday night of last week I went to a forum at the Vestavia Library, "Being Muslim in Alabama." The event was billed as “a discussion with Mark Potok, Senior Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center; Khaula Hadeed, Executive Director of the Alabama Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations; Ashfaq Taufique, President of the Birmingham Islamic Society. Today's polarized political climate calls for reasonable dialog and sincere effort from each of us to better understand the rich, varied fabric of American society and all the members of  the U.S. culture that never stands still. Come learn more about Alabamian Islamic relations and ways we can better understand one another as we work to make a better community for us all.”

Potok shared some statistics involving hate crime and hate speech. He pointed out that following 9/11, hate crimes actually went down until 2010 when specifically anti-Muslim groups began to appear. In 2014, other hate crimes went down while anti-Muslim hate crimes went up. We began to see ginned up issues and conspiracy theories geared toward inciting fear and hate.

Khaula Hadeed and Ashfaq Taufique shared a bit of what it is like being Muslim and living in Alabama. We heard some informative discussion, yet with the polarization and the reactionary political environment we are witnessing today, solutions are not easy. One of the most salient bits of advice offered was that we should simply get to know someone of the Islamic faith. Have a meal with them, Mr. Taufique said. It is difficult to hate someone you have shared a meal with. He added that he gives this same advice to people in the Islamic community regarding getting acquainted with others. “It will not diminish your faith, he tells his colleagues, “to get to know your non-Islamic neighbors.”

The most encouraging thing for me was not in any answers (there are no easy or simple ones), but the encouraging thing was that the auditorium was filled to capacity with citizens who are concerned about making a difference.

III.         Mindfulness in Our Spiritual Practice

(Photo from Jim Burklo's website)

On Friday morning I read Jim Burklo's blog on “Prayer and Mindfulness” which highlights the relational aspect of spiritual practice in terms of self and others as well as self and Other (i.e. “God”).  

In my own experience, the best thing I can do for my friends is to listen to them.  If I’m doing too much of the talking, then I’m not adequately listening.  And when I listen, I do best if I really listen: just be present in silence and give my friend my full, compassionate, truly interested attention. . .  Mindful prayer is being God’s friend, and letting God be a friend to us:  simply being, attentively, with each other’s’ being.

Spiritual practice is indeed an endeavor that involves listening, waiting, and paying attention. With all of the reminders this week of betrayal of trust in the church and words of hate in the public square, it was good to be reminded of the need to push the personal “reset button” by spending time in meditation and to practice mindful prayer.

Jim Burklo's blog, Musings, is on the Progressive Christianity website and can be found at

There you have my Monday - Wednesday - Friday summary of the week past. Now on to the week ahead.

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  1. Spirituality for me is about our Oneness with all life and Connection to the lives of others, the animals and plants and even to the Earth itself. Nature is my God and my spiritual feelings keep me in right relationship with reality. Being spiritual also allows me to see the best in others and in all things. Realizing that I am a part of creation gives me meaning and purpose as I endeavor to bring others to the truth and peace that I have discovered for my life. Throwing away the crutch of religion and worship and salvation for a supposed next life has made this life even more wonderful.

  2. This is an incredible post Charles. We have a friend Tito that we've known for many years though we've lost touch with him. We attended dinner parties at his place with people from the Middle East. The Syrian Ambassadors attended one of the gatherings and some time later, he stopped by our house with the Ambassador and they spent the night. For days afterward we got calls from all around the Middle East wanting our Fax number to send him an urgent fax. He was gracious and kind to us.

  3. I enjoyed the read very much. I am open to thoughts opposite mine and know we all do not agree completely. We are all the products of our upbringing. I had a friend who had a serious heart attack. He asked the Dr. what could have prevented the heart attack, the Dr. smiled and said, 'only if you had had different parents.' We live with our loves and prejudices. Some are no fun.
    Thanks for an enlightening read.


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