A week ago today was my birthday. I’m the same age as my mother when she died of a stroke some twenty-eight years ago. This past year has been marked by the deaths of close friends and family; most recently my Uncle Jack who almost made it to his 93rd birthday. This latest passing, coupled with being the same age as my mother when she passed, has left me more than a bit reflective of life and vulnerability. This internal examination has lead me to acknowledge another loss I have been ignoring for a few years—my love affair with the divine.
It didn’t happen all at once; instead it’s been a slow brew of indifference to the spiritual domain. Like many who read or contribute to FAR, my spiritual compass was fined tuned to point north in all matters of my life, even at a very early age. The Virgin Mary, Mass, the Sacraments of the Catholic Church and its rituals are what Andrew Greeley defines as The Catholic Imagination. Taken together, these insist on a spirituality that sees the divine saturated in all of creation. Grace, abundant grace, is never outside the reach of those who wish to experience it.
As a young girl, my mother made these essentials of the church come alive in me. I loved all of it; the tangible demonstrations of an inherited faith that sustained me no matter what chaos came my way. But the faith that sustained me was based on some form of acknowledgment of a Love greater than myself, no matter how weak the attempt on my part was. I’ve wondered if my immersion in two theological degrees and an advanced degree in Religious Studies is the culprit of my malaise. For most of my academic training I set aside any hint of a confessional theology that intertwines a “faith seeking understanding” with spiritual emotionality.
But even with this stance I managed, in private, to find reassurance and conviction of Her presence in my life until I admitted to myself that She and all She embodies have lost their place in my life. Did She locate to a new zip code or did I just stop caring? My indifference is not due to a Dark Night of the Soul based on some event that has called into question the presence or love of God/ess. Instead I find myself shying away from any God-Talk that asks me to articulate something, anything of the nature of the God/ess I have loved.
Father Richard Rohr, a man of prophetic wisdom and love, captures my lazy relationship with the Divine when he writes,
In solitude, at last, we’re able to let God define us the way we are always supposed to be defined—by relationship: the I-thou relationship, in relation to a Presence that demands nothing of us but presence itself. Not performance but presence.
In other words, it is simply our presence or showing up that is needed in the I-Thou relationship. And this is exactly what I have failed to do or be interested in doing. Is this laziness or some other alchemy at work? Is it a natural progression of letting all “religious” performance go, to be replaced by what the mystics called nothingness?
But these (mostly women) did show up as seekers. I have simply lost interest, either because of laziness or something beyond my present understanding.
I have heard the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. In this context the implications give me pause. My sense is the ball is in my court, meaning at some point I’ll need to do the heavy lifting of showing up with no expectations, allowing the Presence to meet my presence. While in the past my relationship with God/ess has been fruitful, I’m not sure I’m ready for a relationship with no-thing-ness. Empty before Her will take presence. I hope I’m up to the challenge of making myself present. I hope I’m up to the challenge. I hope.
Cynthia Garrity-Bond, feminist theologian and social ethicist, is completing her doctorate from Claremont Graduate University in women studies in religion, with a secondary focus in theology, ethics and culture. Cynthia taught in the Department of Theological studies at Loyola Marymount University and the Religious Studies Department of Mount St. Mary’s College, Los Angeles Her research interest includes feminist sexual theology, historical theology with particular emphasis on religious movements of women, transnational feminism and ecofeminism.