The Presbyterian Church USA, as a specific denomination, provides an historical, traditional, foundation for this work of becoming The Church As It Ought To Be. “Reformed, always reforming,” is the motto of the PCUSA. It means we are always becoming The Church As It Ought To Be. The essential dialectic, or dialogue, for this process of becoming The Church As It Ought To Be is underscored in the two poles of the PCUSA.
On one hand, there is the officially recognized sanctity of the individual conscience. This is worth quoting the original sources for verification: From the Constitution of the PCUSA (Part II, The Book of Order): “God alone is Lord of the conscience...therefore, we consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion, as universal and unalienable...The Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and (practice) (and) no Church governing body ought to pretend to make laws to bind the conscience (by) virtue of their own authority.”
A counterweight to the right of individual conscience is the fundamental assumption of Presbyterianism: All of us are wiser than any one of us. We make decisions as a representative democracy, and one of the promises of the old Presbyterian Church in the United States (the “southern Presbyterian Church”) made at the ordination of ministers and members of church governing boards (Elders, serving on a church board called the Session) was “subjection to my brothers and sisters in the Lord.”
The work of integrity, of wholeness, is between the part (the individuals) and the whole. This work requires a fluid, dynamic, flow, a dance together, much like the relationship between the stream and its channel as it finds its way to the sea. Nothing is static, or frozen, or rigid about The Church As It Ought To Be. It is vibrant, alive, breathing, always becoming what it should be. “Reformed always reforming.” Re-forming itself again and again to take into account changing circumstances, perceptions, and the growth of both individuals and the whole.
Here we are, then, beginning our seventh year of existence, continuing the work of becoming the Church As It Ought To Be. This work begins with the encounter with the Numinous. Those of you who were on hand Wednesday night two weeks ago heard me describe the seven weeks away on the combination sabbatical leave and vacation as an engagement with the “Numinous Landscape.” And, you know that I am putting a DVD together with that title and the subtitle: “Doorway to Transcendence.” Who knows when it will be ready, but it’s coming, much like we are becoming the Church As It Ought To Be.
I said then, and I will say now, “numinous” is a word that comes from a word that means “to nod” (According to James Hollis, and why would he lie?). The numinous nods at us, winks at us, beckons to us, whispers our name, and waits, momentarily, to see if we notice, hoping that we will, so that the chase might be on. The numinous evidently loves a good chase. I’d love to know where that comes from, but, as with everything else about the numinous, we will probably never get to the bottom of it.
So. The numinous nods at us and is gone, like a white rabbit, around a corner, over a hill, down a hole, leaving us wondering if we saw anything, and wondering, itself, if we will give chase, if we will come after, if we will stop what we are doing and do what it wants us to do, which is, to look closer, see where it leads. The numinous pauses, hoping that we will take up the trail of the numinous, which is also the path with our name on it, and laying caution and timidity aside, follow after.
Ah, but, where DOES it lead? I’m so glad you asked. There is no reason to hold anything back. Most of you are old enough to take it, so here goes: The numinous leads us straight, not counting all the detours and asides, twists, spins and round-a-bouts that compose the path—the beam—with our name on it, to the heart of Transcendent Reality and, interestingly enough, to the heart of our very own heart as well. Which is to say that the other side of you, the other side of me, is God. This means that the numinous which leads us to God leads us to us. So that oneness-of-being is our source and our goal.
But this may be too much for one sitting. While I’m sure you will find what I’m laying out to be the case, it may be prudent to begin softly and go slowly so as not to give you too much of the unheard of to hear. We tend to shut down when we hear things that are too much unlike the things we have already heard. So, I will start over and say the numinous is that which stirs our soul, which touches us, which moves us. What happens then is the critical part. We must move toward that which moves us. The movement of soul within us, the stirring of heart, the resonating vibration of something responding to something, must be translated into the physical act of bodily moving toward that which nods to us, winks at us, calls our name. Everything hangs on it, on our moving toward that which moves us.
We recognize when something outside of us resonates with something inside of us. We don’t take anyone’s word for anything without resonation. When we experience the resonating movement, what is resonating? What is moving? What knows what? Yet, it is not to be ignored. When something catches our eye, we have to look closer, chase after, or else. We must move! This means we have to leave home, or what has become home! We step boldly into the wilderness and find our way back, well, home!
The hero’s task, the spiritual journey is waking up, moving toward what moves us, following the white rabbit, doing what needs to be done. One white rabbit leads to another. Grace is never linier, direct, predictable. We do not know where we are going or how we will get there. We think it’s about one thing but it’s about another, and when we think it’s about that, it’s about something else. Everything is a doorway, nothing is a destination. Even Transcendent Reality opens to us. The whole and the parts in eternal dialogue, becoming the Church as it Ought to Be.
We are all responsible for nourishing, for nurturing, our sense of the numinous, the ineffable, “the underlying reality.” We find the way forward by doing what we think, what we feel, what we intuit, what we instinctively sense, needs to be done and seeing what happens, seeing where that takes us, seeing what that leads to. We must not miss the treasure on the way to the treasure. We must not ignore what is opening before us, beckoning to us. We must be able to abandon our previous plan in favor of what is obviously calling our name, though it might be nothing like what we had in mind. We start out in the attic and find ourselves in our neighbor’s basement. This is called allowing the path to open up before us.
It can be a while between white rabbits. The process requires patience and being present to the moment with curiosity and compassion. The question is always “Now what?” We wait, watch, for something to wink at us, to nudge us, to catch our eye, call our name. It’s our practice, waiting, watching but not sitting on our hands, or wringing them.
When you don’t know where to go to take a photograph, for example, or what to do, go somewhere, do something. The act of going somewhere, of doing something, will give you some momentum, and will increase your chances of seeing where you need to be, of what needs to be done. So, go somewhere. Take a photograph of something. See where it leads you. Nothing is worse than standing still, wringing your hands, burning daylight.
When you aren’t in the mood to take a photograph, go take a photograph anyway. That may get you in the mood. Besides, you don’t have to be in the mood. We must develop the discipline of going in the direction of what moves us, resonates with us, is important to us, regardless of what we want, or are in the mood for. We cannot just follow the white rabbit as long as it takes us where we want to go, but it better go straight there with no fooling around. What we get out of following the white rabbit is a meaningful life. Something not found in the display cases or on the show room floors. In the grip of a compelling vision (the white rabbit) we put all we thought we wanted aside and serve the vision. Or else.