Comforting Words: Spiritual Home on Earth

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Spiritual Home on Earth

It has only been a month since the end of the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer and I am back on the treadmill and the fast track.

My most sincere apologies for the absence of posts to Comforting Words, but I am sure you will forgive me as you my dear readers are people who are as dedicated to justice and compassion as I am. These past four weeks have been spent serving some of the most beautiful women in a place where many of you would never dream of being and very few of you would rather not make home again.

On the topic of making home, in my last post Finding Home Anywhere I promised to deal with this subject, how to be at home in all situations, over the next few posts. In this regard, one significant learning for me has been finding a spiritual home here on Earth. What I have learnt is that this quest is both a state of being and a physical place where a community of kindred souls gather in celebration of life and each other.

And so, I offer you the following unedited version of an article I wrote for a magazine of the United Church of Canada, Women’s Concern. It is part of my story about my journey to home. It was published recently and touches on the subject of being at home in one’s faith. Once you have read it, I invite you to reflect on your homeward bound spiritual journey and share your thoughts with me.

Blessings,

Claudette

What do we mean by Christian?

Being silent in the face of discrimination, oppression and any form of injustice is not one of my many virtues.

Of all the biblical stories that represent my inability to be silent and my innate desire to proclaim Jesus’ message of hope and acceptance is the account in the Gospel of John about the exchange between him and the woman of Samaria (John 4: 1-42).

This was a woman from a tribe that worshipped their own gods and was regarded with contempt by Israelites. More distinctly, however, this woman had cohabited with five men, the last of whom was not even her husband. However, Jesus was seemingly undisturbed and unperturbed by her ethno-cultural heritage, faith tradition or her personal jaded history (in the context of the time). By requesting a drink of water from such a woman, Jesus displays his ability to see and publicly acknowledge her essence – a child of the one God. This not only startles her into naming him a prophet but she “left her water jar and went to the city,” (4:28) to share the news.

For most of my life, I was a modern day woman from Samaria. My personal history is speckled with many failed intimate relationships. My cultural heritage and ethnic background made me stand out in the Eurocentric communities where I did graduate studies and currently live. Growing up as I did in the politically fervent environment of 1970s Jamaica, I took seriously the feminist model of strength and claiming one’s space in a male-oriented society and in a white-oriented world. By the time I was 25 years old, another aspect of my being would make itself known in a society that is still not prepared for people of differing sexual orientation.

After visiting one too many churches and listening to one too many ‘fire and brimstone’ sermons that condemned single people (especially women), divorcees, single-mothers and gays and lesbians to hell and damnation because of their sexuality, I walked away from institutional religion. God, however, did not leave my heart. My search for meaning continued, sometimes unconsciously, and would increase in fervor after I read these words of retired Episcopalian Bishop, John Shelby Spong:

“Our focus today must rather be on the ways that sex can enhance life in the circumstances of this century. To bring together sexual activity and the fullness of life is the task before the church in our time. The enhancement of life does not come through controlling guilt or through prejudicial stereotypes. It comes through responsible action that is honest, non-manipulative, sensitive and life giving. It comes through a loving human relationship that does not violate any commitments the involved persons previously made that are still operative.”


The gift that I received from this controversial minister and theologian, would lead me into a more earnest quest and questioning about Christianity, the strength and depth of my faith and my relationship with institutional religion. As I sought answers, the doors opened wider to deeper questions. My journey has propelled me through rooms where racism, sexism and heterosexism reside, where the walls scream in ridicule that I do not belong and have no claim to a Christian faith. Often in despair I have caught myself screaming back! If Christianity meant that I should judge, exclude and ridicule my brothers and sisters because they have chosen a different path to the Creator, or if their life challenges have resulted in choices that I may not have made, I wanted nothing to do with such a faith.

Thankfully, I have grown to a place where I can claim my Christian heritage as the ground of my religious beliefs. I stake that claim fully on the fact of my birth in the Western world but also on the fundamental message and teaching of Jesus the Christ– both of which have been adopted and preached to serve the interests of the ‘Fathers’ of the Church and their descendants.

I, like many other “believers in exile,” a phrase coined by Bishop Spong, have a faith that is rooted in Jesus’ life and mission as the shepherd who came so that we all “may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10). In the same chapter John tells us that Jesus’ mission was an inclusive one: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also . . . So there will be one flock.” (v. 16)

It is in this message that I name myself Christian, albeit I do not identify with many of the ecclesiastical and societal adaptations into dogma and moral codes. As a modern woman of Samaria, I proclaim Jesus as prophet with a message of inclusion and healing love for all. This is both a statement of belief and intent for my life.

For too long, I have been peeping through the windows of the Christian Church, hesitating to enter because, as often occurs with women, I did not want to be relegated to kitchen duties. Neither did I want to be politically correct and deny my continuing journey of travail and trials as a person of colour or to bury my almost sixteen-year relationship with a woman in the closet crafted by hate and ignorance.

Following in the footsteps of my heroine from Samaria, I met Jesus the Christ at the well and I heard his voice offering me God’s living water. As I drink, my voice clears and I boldly claim my place as a worshipper of a living God. I loudly proclaim, in my living and my doing, the Jesus message of equality, freedom, justice and the healing love of Spirit.

That to me is what it means to be Christian.

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