Magazine article The Christian Century

Drawing Near

Magazine article The Christian Century

Drawing Near

Article excerpt

THE CENTURY dawned with great expectations. It ends with deep disillusionment, as we ponder Rodney King and O. J. Simpson, the infernos in Waco and Oklahoma City, the deception of Watergate and Iran-contra, the killing fields of Vietnam and Bosnia, and much more besides.

This sun sets on an America connected by cars and planes and e-mail, a land with air-conditioned homes, televisions, cordless phones and microwaves. Yet we crouch inside our homes in fear, and point the accusing finger. We blame the government, belittle the priest, resent the physician, mistrust the police and nitpick the visionary. Worse yet, we blame the poor, the homeless, the have-nots and complain that we would have more if not for their irresponsibility.

Despairing of everyone else, we turn inward. There we find light, and call it spirituality. We do not call it religion; we lost faith in religion along with everything else. Religion confines us with decrees that no one can enforce, and with guilt that we don't need. Religion breeds fanatics who lead their followers to genocide or suicide. It brings us televangelists and hypocrites. Worst of all, its rites bore us with redundant sermons and updates on building programs.

So we turn to spirituality. Some choose prayer and meditation. Some turn to music and dance, others to rituals borrowed from other traditions. Some read books on comparative religions or alternative interpretations of the Bible. We lump together the parts of religion that we like and call the result spirituality; we call the refuse religion.

Maybe that's the best we can do in this cynical, individualistic age. Yet the seekers have one thing in common: they want to get closer to God. "Day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways . . . They ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God," God said through Isaiah.

It sounds promising, as if God affirms our inward turn to spirituality. But God preceded that statement with a foreboding commission: "Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins." The people sought God "as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God." They failed, because in spite of their fasting and confessing and pining prayers, they did not liberate the oppressed, feed the hungry, house the homeless and clothe the naked. They did not do God's justice.

Many of us do something for those less fortunate than ourselves, but few of us do it with the same zeal we apply to our inner searches for wholeness and happiness. …

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