Monday, December 12, 2011

"Spiritual" and an Ecumenical Service on Gaudete Sunday.

Recently I have come across a number of people who answer the Religion box with the word "Spiritual".  I don't know what this is supposed to mean as many of the people I ask can't really tell me.  I think it means "I don't belong to any organised religion.  I am not an atheist or agnostic.  I love angels and things like that...I just feel one with nature....I'm in touch with my inner being...I'm spiritual."  This is my limited distillation of what I have heard.  Being Spiritual means anything you want it to mean a la Lewis Carroll's caterpillar.

I think this picture sums it up.  As Catholics we have tried very hard to get away from pie in the sky when you die.  The picture is entitled "The Spiritual Path"!

I attended the Ecumenical Service I mentioned in the last post.  I did say I couldn't see the point of it.  St George's Singers provided some good music...a lot of it in Latin!   Everybody did their bit and I did change my attitude.

One thing in particular did worry me and it came out of Park Town North Methodist Church and that was what made me think of "Spiritual".  They had a little litany addressed to angels that came across as bordering on superstition. The sort of sentimental nonsense that we as Catholics are often accused of.  For example

V: You speak to your people through angels
R:  Keep our ears & hearts open to the whisper of angel voices.

V:  Angels come among us and many have entertained them unawares.
R:  Keep us watchful and waiting for the spirit beings in our midst.  Teach us to recognise them in all their disguises.

V:  Angels come among us, their presence comforting and disquieting.
R:  Make us sensitive to their presence feeling their spirit hands guiding us to the future, guiding us to heaven where we will see and hear clearly what we have glimpsed in shadow.

It seems to me to play into the hands of those who are 'spiritual' and encourages a spirituality without responsibility.  It goes with pictures like this one!

St Raphael the Archangel
We have a developed angelology in Christianity inherited from Judaism with its later influence of Persian Zoroastrianism.  An angel is a messenger in the Jewish and Christian traditions and doesn't have wings other than cherubim and seraphim in Isaiah.  A whole hierarchy has been developed with Angels, Archangels, Principalities, Powers etc and a demonology to match that probably owes a lot to the dualism of Zoroastrianism.

We don't seem to have a particularly sentimental attitude to angels in the Church though sometimes devotion to Guardian Angels borders on it.

In fact Archangels are portrayed as being particularly strong.  Neither Michael, Gabriel, Raphael or Uriel lend themselves to sentimentality!

The Anglican contribution, St Francis, Parkview & St George's Parktown, was much more nuanced and centred on environmental issues.  At one point I wondered if it wasn't struggling to be so meaningful that it ended up a little meaningless.  The Dutch Reformed contribution was only in Afrikaans, NGK Parkkruin, but it was straight forward.

The Coptic Orthodox from St Mark's Cathedral, Parkview, sang what was effectively a Litany of the Saints for Advent.  The protestant churches seem to mix up Advent with Christmas so we sang O Come all ye Faithful and a few other carols but it was interesting to see how liturgical they have become.

I nearly forgot the singers from St Peter's by the Lake Lutheran Church!

Overall it was too long with maybe too  much music and the  litanies should have been cut down also 5,00pm is not a good time to expect a good attendance!  On the positive side there was a great effort made to produce something worthwhile, and the Axis churches getting together is a good thing...contrary to my comments on the previous post.  For example I discovered friends from other churches who I didn't even know went to church!  I am sure the next time will be a great advance on this first service.  We were late comers to the occasion and will doubtless have more input next time.

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