I have recently been involved in a project for renewal of my local parish but i feel that i have failed badly and i do not know how to solve it. Renewal does not mean returning, especially not returning to some failed formula – failed because there is obviously a need for renewal. Christian churches across Europe have dwindling attendances; the Catholic church in Dublin has about a 20% participation rate, participation in weekly services. The participation rate is probably higher for some sacraments, such as baptism, but much lower for others such as confession. And so we seek renewal.
The church is obviously, and unquestionably, irrelevent in the lives of many, many good people. Why is this? Is it the fault of the 80%, the fault of our society or the fault of our churches? There is no doubt that society is extremely secular and materialistic but should that not drive people to seek a truer meaning? Should it not encourage people to seek a higher meaning rather than drive them away?
I was intrigued to find that my philosophy classes were much busier in the boom times and much more deserted in the recessionary times. Apparently, when we have fulfilled our financial and materialistic needs and desires, then, and for most of us, only then, do we seek a higher meaning. Once times get tough financially we focus on the material world and put off worrying about spirituality or philosophy for another day. Feed me first.
So, first question, is there a good reason for trying to make spirituality and philosophy more relevant to people in their everyday lives? Should we be even trying for renewal or should we draw a gentle line under the established christian churches and move on?
Personally, the answer is yes, spirituality and philosophy are relevant today and the church should be a good way of helping people blossom into spirituality. Whether or not the christian churches are able to meet this challenge is a different issue. The message of Jesus, of love and compassion, the same message that most religions and spiritual leaders spread, is still relevant today. In fact, the more people who share this planet with us, the more relevant such a message is.
One of the chapters in Sister Stan’s book, ‘Now is the Time’ is titled ‘A Time to Sow’. I have spoken about other chapters in this book in earlier blogs – each chapter deserves at least it’s own blog. ‘A Time to Sow’ is relevant at the moment because sowing is renewal. Sr Stan tells us, “The sowing just didn’t happen; it had to be prepared for. I remember spending days with my father removing the stones from the fields, very early in the spring, gathering them together in little mounds”
Likewise with renewal, we have to prepare properly for it. Sr Stan also tells us, “The sower sows the seed, in the sure and certain expectation that the seed will germinate and the plant will grow. The sower is a person of hope” Perhaps that’s my problem with the renewal project, perhaps i do not have enough hope. But being students of history, we know there are many wrong turns, that there are many crops which were not harvested, that in many cases the wrong crops were sown in the wrong places – such wrong choices often lead to starvation and destitution.
Sr Stan acknowledges that, “Sowing is not easy. It is hard work. It involves going out in the early days of the year, often before the weather has become mild, and toiling over the soil, trusting that it will, over time, yield up its harvest”. She tells us, “Sowing is an affirmation that everything is possible as long as it is based on love” Once sown, we just have to wait, and trust. Sowing, and renewal, teaches us patience. Will our seeds come to fruition or will they wither and die in some harsh soil or weather.
Springtime is such a time of hope as we see for ourselves the bulbs emerging from the cold soil of winter – like the daffodils in my front garden.
Sr Stan tells us that we can all be sowers of our time, sowing seeds that will benefit the next generation, “Making a new and better life for the next generation means anticipating and creating change, but not change as we have come to think of it”, “But the life of the spirit … is about living in a way that will be fruitful for ourselves, and about creating conditions where our children and our children’s children can live fruitful lives”.
What would Sr Stan advise me i wonder? She tells us, “Even in the face of the impossible, we must act as if it is possible to change the world, to make it a better place for the next generation.” Sowing and renewal is not necessarily about success, people listen but do not always hear.
Perhaps this is Sr Stan’s message to me, to us, “The business of sowing is like prophesying. Prophesying is about changing people’s hearts, changing the way people think. This requires the courage to go alone on an unknown path, to make the path by walking it.”
“The sower, like the prophet, is not concerned with success. His or her life is lived at the edge, planting the questions and possibilities in human hearts, never knowing what effect they will have, never seeking results and being prepared to live with the question”, Sr Stan is pretty adamant on this.
A sower would never, knowingly, sow the wrong seed in the wrong place or at the wrong time. That much is obvious. I feel that i must keep searching for the right place and the right time. Too many wrong choices, too many wrong turns and we run out of time before we achieve our aims, before we even get time to finish sowing. Life is short for all of us.
But Sr Stan, like other philosophers we have visited, has a message for us about time, “Now is the Time”, “The sower’s or prophet’s dream is God’s dream for our time. That time is now – always now, and always future, however long it takes”.
Now is the time and, if so, here is the place.
Let us keep seeking, keep sowing.