Santana-Grace Spirit Soundings
“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confirmed and from clinging to its own security.” – Pope Francis, November 2013
“Bruising, Hurt and Dirty” – an Advent Reflection and Challenge
As we continue our journey through Advent, I have been struck by the recent boldness of this statement by Pope Francis. Consider his comments against the historical landscape of the incarnation. The infant Jesus was not born under safe circumstances – his parents were both emotionally bruised and hurting as they wrestled to understand the birth of this infant in their lives: Joseph – on the unexpected pregnancy of Mary; Mary – on the yet unknown plan for the child she carried. And as to dirty – that would be no metaphor. The birth was in a stable; there was no sterile room with white medical coats. These images represent all that is counter to the images of security that we often cling to – after all, we don’t want to hurt or feel pain; we don’t want to feel vulnerable. We want the security of a permanent, safe and warm shelter. Joseph, Mary and their unborn child represent all that is uncertain, nomadic, homeless and unwelcomed.
But this is precisely how the God of all creation has chosen to reveal the depth of his love for humanity. It was not done within palace walls with the trappings of abundance and excess. It was not done with bagpipes or trumpets, or even soft violins. It unfolded beneath the light of the sky. It unfolded in the midst of the humility and the vulnerability of an infant human life – dependent upon the care and presence of others for survival. It is there that the greatest story ever told takes place. It is there that the one source of the Church of which we are a part is birthed.
So I am thankful for the courage of Pope Francis on his reflections about the Church – and I believe this reflection on the tension within the institutional church goes far beyond that of our “Roman” sisters and brothers. It calls into question the practices and assumptions of all those who profess to be Christian within Christian institutionalism, organizations and congregations. It makes me ask myself – Have we lost the “why” of our existence as a people of faith? Have we traded our mission of being “like Jesus;” of being the incarnation in the spaces God has placed us, for the convenience of the cultural messages of power, wealth, etc.? Have we created our own form of idolatry by hiding behind, if not inadvertently worshipping our traditions, our structures and rules, instead of focusing on the “upside down kingdom values” embodied by the one we claim as Messiah? Have these traditions and structures become our form of “clung-to” security – for the sake of security, instead of for the sake of the Gospel?
These are important questions for us to consider, even as we wrestle with the challenges to our own denomination and the life of our congregations and ministries. And what better season than Advent to do so…. as we make the pilgrimage once again to the manger; as we prepare and wait for the cries of the infant child to break into our lives once again? After all, it is the birth of this child we celebrate who turns the assumptions of the world upside down; whose life, death and resurrection birthed the faith we have embraced.
Now I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I do believe that the church universal is at an important crossroads in our human history. I believe we who are called to serve this church, are challenged to be open to do things differently; to be willing to fail – in order to succeed. I believe we who are called to lead, are challenged to be creative as opposed to despairing – when that which “once was” is “no longer”. I believe we who are called to embody the incarnation with our lives, are challenged to let some things go… because as with all life cycles, some things need to die for others to be birthed. But I firmly believe that we are also challenged to reaffirm that God has placed us here at this time and place – to break into the darkness of our time and to birth the light of new possibilities. This is the challenge of the opportunities before us!!
So as we again make this advent pilgrimage to the manger, I invite us to think about the kind of church we are called to embody with our witness. Will we be a church that is sterile – focused on its own existence for the sake of itself or even, ourselves? Or will we be a church willing to roll up our sleeves and get dirty; responding to the hurt and bruising in the world, committed to entering the depth of human pain and darkness in all vulnerability – not unlike the Christ child whom we once again seek to encounter at the manger.
“…And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
Prayer: I share this Advent prayer-like reflection by Lawrence Housman with you (that was shared with me) – during this season of profound hope.Among Us Light looked down and beheld darkness. “Thither will I go,” said light. Peace looked down and beheld war. “Thither will I go,” said peace Love looked down and beheld hatred. “Thither will I go,” said love. So came light and shone. So came peace, and gave rest. So came love, and brought life. And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.