Anyone lucky enough to attend a church that reads Holy Scripture as assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary, if they went yesterday, got to hear one of the best poets in all the bible – Deutero Isaiah (Isaiah 40.21-31)
Here’s a glimpse:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing…
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Deutero had two siblings, Proto and Trito. Castigation was the name of the game for Proto and contention was the bottom line for Trito. But Deutero was all about consolation – pure consolation. While each dimension of these poets’ outlooks are important to hear if you need a lift read Deutero; even in exile Deutero hopes, sees and believes – puts his trust in – the All-Mighty.
Have you not known, have you not heard? Fair to say that if you didn’t attend church yesterday you heard lots of news and most of it was bad.
This morning I read a review of a new book by Nancy Ammerman (Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes: Finding religion in Everyday Life, Oxford University Press, 400 pp). Ammerman is a eminent sociologist of religion. In Sacred Stories she debunks the on-going myth you’ve heard a hundred times: that there exists people who are spiritual but not religious (SBNR). As it urns out, people who “make a distinction between religion and spirituality (‘I’m spiritual but not religious’) turn out to be neither.
“Ammerman and her colleague’s in-depth study of 95 subjects who mirror the religious makeup and diversity of the United States revealed that the way people experience religion and practice spirituality – or in Ammerman’s preferred term, ‘sacred consciousness’ – is far more fluid than previously understood… Sacred consciousness, an awareness of a transcendent or more-than-mundane dimension to life, shows up in the home, in hospitals, in recovery groups, in art, in nature and in the workplace. It is one of the narratives people develop and use to interpret life. Seldom can it be whittled down to adherence to a creed or understood through the doctrinal statements of a particular faith.”
If your’e reading this and thinking that congregational life – belonging to a church and believing a Creed – is diminished by Ammerman’s findings you’d be wrong. “It turns out that congregations remain important. They are the settings or vessels that give shape and encouragement to the spiritual life and practice of individuals… ‘One of the most striking results of this research has been the degree to which participation in organized religion matters,’ Ammerman writes… To sum up her findings, one might say that with a congregation a person is more likely to be spiritual, and without such a community of spiritual discourse and practice, individuals tend to be less spiritual or not spiritual at all.”
So there. If you haven’t heard that not being in church clips your spirit’s wings, and if you are weary and exhausted, get up and come to hear the good news.
Anthony Robinson’s great review of Sacred Stories can be found in the February 4 issue of The Christian Century Magazine.