Recently, while researching some material about spirituality for what I hope will be my next book, I came across this piece that I wrote five years ago. I thought how relevant it is as Australian catholics are being invited to rev up for the 20/20 Plenary Council. I would be interested in your comments.
Do you know this feeling? Standing in front of an open wardrobe and deciding that everything is either too tight, out of date, too worn, too hot- or cool, just not right!
It’s a great image for spirituality as we mature in years and faith – that inner knowing that some practice, some tradition or long-held belief is not the right fit. Maybe it suited the younger you but the mature you wants something more, something that you can’t quite identify.
It reminds me of a story I copied from a website years ago:
During my adult years, I went to church for long periods of time. I still yearned for the sense of meaning and the feeling of belonging that the whisper had intimated-the mysterious presence, the felt connection to a larger reality-but the actual experience of what had been promised seemed to be absent. It did not meet my longing.
It wasn’t until my mid-forties that I mentioned my dilemma with the church to a colleague who’d once been a Dominican priest. He told me a story of a beautiful tree in the center of a garden, surrounded by a high stone wall. He likened the tree to a person searching for the sacred, and the wall, to the boundar¬ies defined by her religion. He concluded by saying:
“The tree needs to grow out of the garden. Its branches need room to expand and spread wide. They need to reach far outside the garden’s walls, for they cannot be contained by the walls’ limits. But the tree always remains rooted in the garden.”
His story helped to reconcile my hope and my grave disappointment in the religion of my childhood. I had done everything I could to stay within the garden’s walls, but letting my branches expand had become a mounting demand. Once more, I left the church but the church never left me. It remained inside like the tree’s roots in the garden, guiding me not so much morally (for my family had provided that structure), as in my human passage. Its stories and teachings gave direction in ever-deeper waters, reminding me how to navigate and integrate a life at every turn. I have been continuously fed by that heritage. Since early childhood, it has been my foundation and formed a large part of who I am. Like the tree’s branches, however, I had to seek far outside its walls before I could return and listen again-but this time, not with my ears.
Many people, but I suspect more women than men, experience a ‘But wait, there’s more’ feeling about the way they live out their faith. What to do about it as Sunday comes around once again? Sit in a pew and feel bored or even angry, change churches, give it up all together, settle for passivity – a what can I do about it approach, stay home and feel guilty?
Just like a favourite dress that has to be laid aside because it no longer fits our more mature shape, so too the way we express our faith and live out our God relationship changes over the years. I think that it’s important to trust our inner knowing that some faith practices are no longer life-giving, and may need to be laid aside with sadness, courage and a sliver of excitement.