Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Life Isn't Hard Enough?

In the early 1970's I heard an address by Anna Marie AAgard, the Danish theologian. She was speaking at a local seminary. The New Age had started to lift its starry and glitter-filled little head, and the self-help-movement was potentiating itself into a blurry and narcissistic frenzy. I recall it as though it was yesterday. I will put what I recall that she said in quotes, but the statements are from the tape-recorder of my memory, not from notes...(end of disclaimer).

She talked about the message of the times - that somewhere inside us, if we just looked with enough deep faith and dedication, worked hard enough on our spirituality, developed ourselves with enough integrity -- that somewhere there was a "still, small space where all is well and at peace inside us -- where we are all whole and at perfect peace."

She paused as we all thought how right that was -- and she said, "That is, of course, heresy, and tragic heresy at that."

She went on to say that there IS NO SUCH PLACE. And, that as Lutherans we knew that because we understood brokenness, but that we had joy nonetheless because we also understood Grace. She said that to seek that place-that-was-not was to engage in enormous effort only to always end in disappointment and with feelings of failure.

But these were seminarians she was talking to -- so she went on to tell them that furthermore, to give in to the notion that "that perfect place" existed, was to institutionalize spiritual failure and "to waste precious time in false ministry to false pain."

False Ministry to False Pain - those words went zinging around the rooom like heat-seeking missles.

I think how many times I as a member of the faithful have sought that place - in my daily life or as what I fantasize is the result of well-prayed prayer, or well-lived faith. Then I get to feel bad if I am not there. I look at how churches have found fault with the unbroken, when what has been called for is lavish amounts of Grace.

I would never suggest that we should not try to be the best we can be. But it seems to me that we deny our radical need for the grace of God if we imagine that we are unbroken, or can bcome unbroken through the force of our own efforts.

And while we seek perfection -- the perfect community, the perfect worship service, or the perfect building, or the perfect feeling inside -- while we seek that, people starve for grace. And we starve with them.

Here is one of my favorite songs by Leonard Cohen that addresses it better than I ever could.

"Anthem"

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.

I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring ...

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in

.

6 Comments:

Blogger The Harbour of Ourselves said...

Doesn't get much better than this...

like Bruce Cockburn says, keep kicking the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight

4:17 AM  
Blogger LutheranChik said...

Amen and Amen.

10:37 PM  
Blogger Maggie Rose said...

what an excellent post, Mata. excellent.

it seems to me that we deny our radical need for the grace of God if we imagine that we are unbroken, or can bcome unbroken through the force of our own efforts.

Amen! indeed.

Maggie

6:44 AM  
Anonymous Marti said...

I agree.

I love Leonard Cohen - thank you for sharing the lyrics!

Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

11:15 AM  
Blogger beth said...

Girl...you make me wanna be Lutheran, especially if you can claim Leonard Cohen....

(just kidding)

But - what a meaningful post! I'd like permission to pass this round to my fellow staff-persons at my church via an email - can I do this?

Thanks for opening my eyes yet again...God has used you so often in my life...

11:25 AM  
Blogger Mata H said...

Harbour -- I love that quote!!!

Beth -- please feel free to pass along anything that I write, and feel free to tell people where you found it -- it is so helpful for me to hear what people think/feel about what rattles around in my brain/soul/heart.

Thanks to you and to all who commented so kindly here.

11:41 AM  

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