The June morning we gathered at Mary Kay’s house was warm and luminous. The first thing I noticed as I walked to her door was the gargantuan sunflowers that towered over my head, nodding a greeting. Some were at least ten feet tall with leaves the size of large dinner plates. They were randomly planted, MK told us, a little surprise of nature. Ah! What a great way to start our discussion of Chapters 2 and 3. The ground beneath our feet is teeming with a life of its own, nourished by water, under the beauty of the California sky.
The chapter on water brought forth many experiences with the riparian zones of the Colorado River, the Mississippi, the Hudson, the Snake, and even the River Gave in France. The collective sense was one of a rushing movement, always changing. “You can’t step into the same river twice,” was the spiritual message, re-learned with each visit. We lamented pollution, the shocking statistics that Diana Butler Bass wrote about. In the discussion of the Spiritual Quest for Water, we shared our own stories of transformation, some just now occurring. Marie Ryan recalled her experience of the healing springs of Lourdes, France, when she was in her early twenties, for example. We also talked about favorite Scripture stories – so many about water, so many about healing. We all concurred that sometimes simply going to the beach is the best medicine.
The careless way the human race has taken this great resource for granted occupied a great deal of our discussion. The call to social justice is strong. Why, then, do we not hear more about what we can do as a faith community to raise consciousness, to reverse the threat to water? Our lamentations about the lackluster tone of Sunday homilies were loud and collective. Many questioned why Catholics are so complacent, especially with Pope Francis constantly calling us to care more for creation. Perhaps because the issue has been politicized and thus controversial? The clergy does not want to ruffle the feathers of parishioners who do not believe in global warming? Whatever the reason might be, the group stood firm that something must be done, citing the many churches all over the country that are responding by digging wells, conserving energy, and raising consciousness. Grassroots level activism may be the only way. Sadly, we left it at that and had to move on.
The discussion of the next chapter, The Sky, continued in the same lively manner as the previous. The mysteries of the invisible yet powerful atmosphere, of cloud formations, wind, stars, dark matter, left us spellbound. We talked about why people are afraid of believing in evolution, preferring to embrace the literalism of the Bible’s creation stories, especially since the Catholic Church has long since been a pioneer in advancing the secrets of the universe. Is science still at odds with religion? No one in this enlightened group is stuck in that quagmire. We see no problem with the “new cosmology,” that, it turns out, isn’t so new. We were all happy that Georges Lemaitre, a Jesuit priest who proposed the big bang theory, along with Teilhard de Chardin (who was actually silenced at one time), have both been esteemed by modern popes as advancing scientific thought in this regard.
Air pollution was lamented by the group. What we can do was pondered. The activists among us have specific ideas; others seemed more pessimistic that no matter what we do, the resistance on the far right is too great. Personalizing the topic, some of us suggested that we think about our grandchildren. What are we doing to leave the planet a better place? The bigger question, to me, is how do we become more enlightened about faith and science? How do we give the next generation a deeper context for the challenges of the modern world so that they can make faith-filled decisions about the ground, water, the sky?
As Faith Formation Director, I go back to how to fundamentally change hearts and minds. To me, this is about cultivating earthy mysticism within the consciousness of the young, something I believe they are deeply longing to find in our Church. We simply MUST get away from the patterns of “vertical faith,” of thinking and talking about God “in heaven,” rather than in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the ground beneath our feet. Images of God are often formed in childhood and unless we intentionally grow, allowing our language to change along with these images, there is little hope for personal or global change.
Sadly, many Catholics (and not just young people) do not know what the Church teaches about how we interpret the Bible. They are swimming in the waters of evangelicalism in America and have unconsciously taken on their fundamentalist beliefs about Scripture. Some don’t even think about it. Faith is something they want for their families because it makes them feel good. They don’t ponder the deeper mysteries or try to reconcile their worldview with the Creed. Many leave our faith because they don’t feel connected. And so, on it goes. We have a rich gourmet meal for them but we don’t lay the banquet or invite them very well.
I’ve been spending the greater part of the past ten years educating young parents in our Family Faith Formation gatherings. Some are thrilled to have the lights turned on for them. Some look at their phones and sip their Starbucks the whole time. I want to yell at them: “Pay attention! Your life depends on this!” I raise my voice. I tell jokes. I say outlandish things sometimes just to wake them up. The ones who are listening laugh and give me a knowing look. Others don’t even notice. Yet I persist because I know I must. But you cannot force someone to the altar of enlightenment and make them worship. The hungry will be fed. The thirsty will drink. As a wise mentor once told me, “You can sow the seeds of faith but you are not allowed to water them. That’s the Spirit’s job.”
I am so grateful to have like-minded writers, like Diana Butler Bass and so many friends in our Sophia Circle, that continually act as my spiritual watering cans!
Leave a comment, question, or affirmation. I like to know that someone is reading this! On to the next meeting: August 6th – location TBA. We will discuss Chapters 4 and 5.
Peace be with us all on the path of enlightenment. . . DC