Thursday, March 23, 2006

My thoughts on Lutheran SpiritualityLutheran Spirituality

So often people say the words Lutheran and Spirituality are antithetical. To them I say, with St. Paul, "By no means!" Sure we don’t do "smells and bells" so well; sure Luther is very "earthy" preferring blood and mud to wine and spirit; sure we shun away from Rome’s mysticism as well as Evangelical fervor, sure we are called the Frozen Chosen, but that just makes for a very particular (perhaps peculiar) kind of spirituality.
I suppose to do this subject justice I should define spirituality. I will define it as a sense of the holy within the world. I think there are several places Lutherans find the holy in a way few others can. Of course there is the pat Lutheran answer that we find the holy in word and sacrament, though this is sort of like saying we find the holy in church. None the less lets look at this a little bit. In the Bible, and in exposition of the Bible, we find ourselves brought from our current world into a specific time and place where God acted. In this traveling of the mind this story becomes our story, our history, our memory, and we are in fact touched by God. In Sacrament we are brought in union with the Spirit and the Universal Church, a holy act yes?
A place where the Lutheran Church finds itself ecclesia par excellence is in the realm of paradoxes. Law and Gospel, Two kingdoms, Already not yet, Saint and Sinner… ah yes Simul justus et pecador that’s the ticket for me.
I own two pendants, a cross and a peace sign… Yes you heard me, a peace sign. I went to college in Eugene Oregon, where football stadiums are hotboxed, where reggae concerts turn into riots, where wearing hemp is the norm, and where a smelly man named Frog actually makes a living selling home made joke books (filled with 30 year old jokes about Nixon). So yes, I wear a peace sign.
Now what does this have to do with anything? Well, I originally wore these two symbols together with the symbolic meaning being that Christ was crucified for peace (yeah, there are issues with this interpretation) then one day I was told I was wearing the cross of the Anti-Christ. My Lutheran mind took flight, and I realized each time those two symbols clinked together that sound was the sound of Saint and Sinner smashing together. Each jingle against my chest is an affirmation of the fact that I can not not sin; each jingle is also an affirmation that it is God alone who saves me, it is God alone who is gracious. I am shit, yet covered in snow (I believe that’s Luther). I am dust, yet animated by the Spirit of God. So for me each step I take is an act of Lutheran spirituality, an affirmation of a holy truth within daily life.
A job I’ve grown fond of as a Lutheran missionary here in England is folding laundry. Yes, you read right, folding laundry. There are times when I just get into the grove, when the action of folding becomes a sweeping natural motion like a crane flying or a leopard pouncing. With the background noise of whirring washers my body too hums with a rhythm. As some hipsters would say "it’s a zen thing," though I find a more apt description in Daoism, that of cook Ding.
"Butcher Ding put down his knife and answered: "What your servant loves is the Dao, which goes beyond technique. When your servant began to carve oxen, what he saw was nothing but oxen. After three years, he saw no whole ox any more. Today, however, your servant meets the ox with his spirit and does not watch it with his eyes, as his senses know where to stop and his spirit desires to advance."
While I could stop by simply saying, "I’ve found a sense of Daoist spirituality in my work as a Lutheran missionary," I think I can go a little deeper. I believe the oneness of action, the "methodless method," that the Daoists talk about is vocation!
Luther disliked the hierarchy of Catholicism, specifically the idea that somehow the job of Priest was more laudatory in the eyes of God than other jobs. So when Luther thought of vocation he thought of it within the paradigm of the priesthood of all believers. That is God sees all jobs that are "useful to his fellow" as actions of priestliness. So I think when I finds that zenlike spot within my work it is because I am acting in such a way that I am living into my vocation. It is the same feeling a Pastor gets while performing word and sacrament, and the same feeling a parishaner gets when receiving the Eucharist. It is a feeling of God’s kingdom and the kingdom of man existing simultaneously in one space.
This is obviously a less than well thought out look at possible Lutheran spiritualism, and it is very centered on my own feelings and experience, but that tends to be a major thrust of spiritualism.