At the end of April I returned from my seventh week at the two year Academy for Spiritual Formation, mind and heart full of what it means to truly be gathered in, all peoples, on a journey toward God. What struck me over and over again during lectures and reflection is the need for genuine hospitality. Each night at the Academy we gather in covenant group where we’ve worked hard to create safe and sacred space to share who we really are and how we experience God in our lives, without judgment or criticism.
I long for the rest of life to be as welcoming. How many times have our spirits been crushed by “well meaning” people bent on convincing us of the errors of our beliefs? If we are going to do more than simply put up with differing theologies and religions, we have to be both gracious hosts and guests in one another’s physical and spiritual homes, and wherever we gather. Embracing inclusivity asks for generosity of spirit, where we are willing to be companions in meaningful conversation with those whose beliefs are different than our own, within the Christian tradition and outside of it.
The only way I know how to do this is on an individual basis. Befriending “the other” one person at a time changes both me and my friend, expanding our ideas, letting God out of the box that’s comforting to contain God in. In order to do this, though, we need to put away our hammers, and let the accounting of our hope and faith arise from our lives and experience, not as dogma we pound into someone else’s head.
Easier said than done, and as you’ll read in the following poem, I am one who is skittish, having been burned by those who insist they are right. May we let go of our own need to be “right” as we explore ways to recognize that all of us are gathered one to another and to God.
Safety First or Why I Avoid Religious Conversation
Every bush is burning
wildfire on the loose
God emblazoned emboldened
everywhere the trees explode
the branches rain down fireworks
and you’d think that I would notice
covered in ash
choking on dust
eyes stinging with smoke
that God has kindled
and consumed the world.
But it is all too much for me.
I want a campfire
of little twigs
confined to a cement ring
maybe Smokey the Bear
some marshmallows on sticks
and a round of Kumbayah
led be a uniformed ranger
from exactly eight to precisely 9 p.m.
on a Saturday night.
And if by chance a spark
should crackle and leap
from that fire pit onto the ground
at my feet
you know that I will automatically
stub it out with my shoe.
It’s what I was taught early on.
Stay away from matches.
Don’t play with fire.
You might burn down the house.
It is after all a perilous world
and I don’t want to get burned.