Post From the Dung Heap

I've had to delete comments because Disqus replicated them all three times !

Wilderness: An exhibition of Contemporary Art from Alex Walker on Vimeo.

Sometimes these  days I feel as if our world and the Catholic church is in some sort of process of being prized open, stretched and painfully hollowed out., not unlike the old Irish curraghs/ fishing boats once made by covering with stretched animal skins !

Maybe it's just my own faith in the church that is being seriously eroded of late and I am feeling adrift.

The abuse scandal across many countries and its analysis plus recent events in my own birth country of Ireland is deeply depressing and a sign of a deeper malady within our church. 

The Catholic church in the West faces a wilderness and a void of trust which I hope it will not be tempted to fill with yet more platitudes, blame and defensive projections.

The attitude of some in the hierarchy in the church which we so often see  is a frightened reaction which cannot endure the facts that are facing it - it may try to bang out its old formulas with a terrible sincerity but it also too easily threatens and beliitles people who have genuine  love for their faith and who show mature dissent and questioning.

It would be far better to share in humility our doubts and grief and let us all get together, not some closed set of bishops and cardinals but all of us, to try and wrestle, to make sense of to what we are called in the light of the gospel.

I have been reading a book I discovered when the presbytery of our church was being cleared out to be converted into flats and sold. We no longer have a priest in residence there - the parish priest lives several miles away and our church has been amalgamated with two other churches into one parish.

The book is by Dominican monk Timothy Radcliffe: Sing A New Song and he tries to tease out some of the roots for the crisis our society and the church finds ourselves in. Despite being written in 1999 it still has much that is relevant for today.


He quotes from this poem " The Second Coming " by WB Yeats which describes a world that is disintegrating and also in the light of the events in Norway this poem seems particularly and painfully apt too.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart; the entire world cannot hold;
More anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere.
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction,while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

Radcliffe believes that there is a crisis of truth in our world and a collapse of shared belief that our words have anything to do with how things really are. They disclose nothing. The covenant between word and world is broken. 

He says "there is profound scepticism as to any truth claims in our modern world. We may spot how patterns of domination may help form our perception of the world, how patriarchy and racism corrupt and betray, and yet remain uncomfortable at any more positive claim as to how things are. 

We may be more likely to accept the authenticity of a person than a the universal veracity of a statement. 

But also many of us can no longer accept the Catholic leaders of the church claiming exclusivity and divinely backed moral authority when they show time and time again that they do not embody the morals they preach.

To quote Yeats again, " A man can embody the truth, but he cannot know it."

But the other side of modernity is the worst, who are full of passionate intensity.

In this singleness of vision which is the other side of modernity which may find its most militant expression in religious fundamentalism, whether by Islamic fundamentalists or biblical and dogmatic fundamentalism of some Christians.

Modernity is characterised by the scepticism of those who are tempted to disbelieve that our words can say anything and the intolerance of those who believe their words say it all. 

War, genocide, intolerance and all forms of abuse find their roots in the collapse of a belief that we may seek and find common truths through dialogue about our fears and doubts.

God is always new and unexpected !"

I wish the hierarchy can accept that the old certainties they cling to are collapsing.

Are they willing to let themselves be led to a place where they can accept that the rigidity of their old system is absurd and senseless and share their dark night of Gethsemane with the rest of us ?  Then maybe the grace of God can show itself where it breaks through despair into an affirmation of thanks and hope for a new future. 

We may even be surprised to encounter and discover each other for the first time.

Meanwhile today I am like Radcliffe says :
"like Job who sits upon the dung heap and proclaims that my Redeemer lives. Only sometimes we merely sit upon the dung heap. ...............

But the Lord leads us into the wilderness to show us Himself. 

Therefore, says Meister Eckhart, "Stand firm, and do not waver from your emptiness."


Phil Ewing said...

Thanks for getting back Claire, I'm with you all the way and maybe these days I too am guilty of taking too many pot shots at the institutional church but then again .... :-)) maybe not.
Let's give ourselves a breathing space and not beat ourselves over the back with self recrimination- God knows as Catholics we are steeped in that sort of  thing all the time. Sometimes it is really important to have a safe place to show anger and in the context of bigger things and our faith as a whole I think it is crucial that we can voice this.

Phil Ewing said...

It's from Meister Eckhart - it's often great for getting one out of a hole !! :-)

grilly said...

"It's only the hand that writes that can erase" -- good point, I like that, Phil.

grilly said...

I was talking about my own self-righteousness, not yours. Basically, I feel so unheard, marginalized, hurt (?) by the ways of Rome when it comes to women and homosexuals, that when i get into topics of sexual abuse by clerics I give vent to my anger (coming from other topics as well) and self-righteousness -- something I became aware of recently and of which I don't feel proud.
But again, how does one get across....

Phil Ewing said...

Grilly - I'm not sure what you are referring to in the first part of the sentence here - the church me. you or me or all of us ? :-))
As for the second part I can only agree with you  but I think that sometimes posts have to be considered in the context of the anger being felt in the now and that has to be acknowledged and worked through- maybe it is a case of  "it is only the hand that writes that can erase"- or something like that :-))
Hope you can get back to me on this as I'm confused .

grilly said...

I find that I have to cut down the self-righteousness and anger... But I am not sure how to do it when it comes to some of the abuse... I'm afraid I won't be heard otherwise -- when I fact I probably create the opposite of what I want by behaving that way. Aghhhhh...

Phil Ewing said...

Thanks Grilly- much appreciated- :-)) Any renewal is threatening and and I hope we can learn to live these moments of tension and corrosive fear - we need to pray for the Holy Spirit.

grilly said...

A great post, Phil. We all are in this together you know. Thank you for recommending the Radcliffe book :-)
Take care.

Phil Ewing said...

Thanks a million Pete for such a hopeful and caring reply. I really need that at the moment.
I am sure there are many priests and religious who have integrity who are wondering where this will lead - if it wasn't for the internet and social media I would be in the dark as to what many of them are thinking but there are so many people who either through denial, indifference, boredom or whatever just do not want to take on board that there is even a crisis.

Phil Ewing said...

Thanks so much TP - your words give me heart and the links are perfect- I love the Rilke quote - thanks -  I will do the heart work on these images - reminds me of James Hillman - stick with the image !!
Best and worst - yes !

TheraP said...

So beautiful!  When I saw the title, I had to come and read!

Here's something related:

"It was the best of times... It was the worst of times."

Peace be with you, Phil!  Even on the dung heap.  There is a Zen story.  Asked "what is zen?"  A master replied:  "Zen is dried dung."  You're in the right place!  Just trace the dung back to it's source...

Black Pete said...

Ironically, Phil, you may find yourself part of the church's solution, you and the others who are grasping the nettle, so to speak, facing the truth. There are other people of integrity "out there" who will rise up and lead, possibly from a fractured structure, possibly from its ashes. Either way, a resurrection may well happen. God's Grace to you in the meantime.