Addressing the eternal conflict of new ideas challenging old practices, Catholic scholar Barbara Fiand offers a poignant resource for seekers and faithful alike, determined to resolve their own struggles between the rational world and the spiritual one. Identifying numerous moments when old ways of viewing reality begin to crumble in light of new information, Fiand draws freely from the findings of physicists and philosophers to advance her argument that old religions can be remain current, and even better understood, when complemented with advances in science and technology. Encouraging her readers to trust science and embrace the wonders of new mysteries, the faithfully devout can find spiritual treasures far greater and more satisfying than settled doctrines alone can offer.
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About the Author
Barbara Fiand teaches spirituality at the Institute of Pastoral Studies of Loyola University Chicago and is the author of books that include From Religion Back to Faith: A Journey of the Heart and In the Stillness You Will Know: Exploring the Paths of Our Ancient Belonging. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Read an Excerpt
THE WHY OF A BOOK SUCH AS THIS
It is our turn to learn what justification means as Paul did long ago, not from books but from the sights and sounds of God in our lives.
— Regis Duffy, O.F.M.
Sometimes I think that I have been a teacher all my life. As a child in Germany I played school with my two sisters using (to my grandmother's dismay) the large shiny surface of our bedroom armoire as a blackboard. Later in high school I tutored, and immediately after graduating I taught sixth grade in a school on a Native Canadian reservation near Montreal when no licensed teacher could be found. With the exception of time out for studies and the occasional spiritual renewal period, I have been teaching ever since and have experienced every level of its lure from grade school to graduate school. Teaching has been my passion, almost my raison d'être. A profession undervalued and underpaid, teaching has been the love and pride of my life. Thomas More's admonition to Rich in A Man for All Seasons,"Be a teacher, Rich, be a teacher," sounded an echo deep within. "Be a teacher, Barbara, be a teacher," is what I hear in the depth of my heart even now, when I have formally retired from academic institutions and am beginning to "remember" my life and to integrate my experience.
Being a woman in academe was never an attitudinally debilitating issue for me in the exercise of my call, even as I moved into the higher levels of teaching — so often still the realm of male dominance, especially in universities sponsored by religious orders of men or in seminaries, where I spent the majority of my graduate teaching years. It is clear to me now that I owe my position regarding my own gender to my mother — a tiny woman with extraordinary strength who singlehandedly weathered the storms of World War II (in the Asian theater of that tragic conflict) with three little daughters to care for and keep safe. My mother was my security. They say that children's images of God frequently originate in their experience of their parents, and so it happened that with an absent father during the war years of my early childhood, my sense of the Divine approximated my experience of my mother, and the feminine was rooted in me. As a consequence, a sense of inferiority simply never infiltrated my conscious or even my subconscious mind. I knew men were allowed to do things in society that women were not, but that never drove me to the conclusion that, therefore, they were better or, for that matter, closer to God. Disappointment with, and anger at, the injustices of the official Catholic mentality toward women (when, through the years, I became aware of it) certainly altered my view of "catholicity" — so often ironically lauded as a "unity in diversity." It never, however, altered my conviction concerning both the fundamental equality of the genders and a woman's capacity to stand shoulder to shoulder with her male colleagues. To be sure, I suffered my share of what Walter Wink and others call the "domination system," but silently to accept the injustice done to me as a God-given or God-willed reality never occurred to me. I have, therefore, generally not been afraid to express my thoughts and to ask questions. The word "why" is and continues to be important to me.
As I grew and matured in the exercise of my teaching vocation, it became ever clearer to me that the primary task of the teacher is to provide time and to open up space for the emergence of the truth. This can be exhilarating in ideal circumstances, but quite often it is also an arduous and at times hazardous task, especially when one is involved with disciplines in which tradition has established what appear to be arbitrary standards of truth that cannot be violated. That the evolution of thought requires, of necessity, the adaptation of our understanding and of our subsequent view of reality seems to be a phenomenon surprisingly uncomfortable for many academics and is often feared, even hated, in the academy. I suspect that few if any disciplines are totally exempt here, but theology strikes me as particularly vulnerable. What surprised me when I first started to teach at a major seminary was the reticence with which evolving new ideas (and, therefore, in the Catholic "theater of thought" often identified as controversial topics) were being dealt with in the classroom. The openness with which the faculty discussed these issues in the faculty dining room (especially in the beginning years of my tenure) was always refreshing and often very instructive for me. Classroom teaching, on the other hand, frequently seemed more like a political press conference. The "party line" was offered, and personal views were circumvented with such phrases as: "the teaching of the church on this matter is clear. ..." It was rare that a professor stated respectful disagreement — giving personal research and thought, the perspective of prominent scholars, or even divergent views in the episcopate — and then invited student discussion.
The official stance against women's ordination, when it first became an "infallible pronouncement" by the last pope (made for him by the present pope) is a case in point. There had been a faculty decision to respond to questions regarding this matter by giving the official church teaching, and then, if appropriate, to cite divergent views from different Christian traditions, and, finally, respectfully to offer one's own perspective, if asked. In this particular case, the statement of "respectful disagreement but obedience" by the then archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, was mentioned as an example. Years of discussion around this topic had made it quite clear to me where most of us stood, but when I actually carried out our decision, I was alone, and this was most likely part of my "undoing." My eventual resignation from the faculty could not have come at a better time, however, both for my own intellectual integrity and my peace of mind, since now one is required to take oaths of (unquestioning) loyalty to the church's (or perhaps moreaccurately put, the Magisterium's) official position on all matters of faith and is expected, once again, to "submit one's intellect and will" to its utterances — even on topics such as Reiki, which, quite likely, are totally beyond its field of competence. It is clear that in such a climate Rembert Weakland's approach mentioned above would be unheard of.
Not long ago I came upon a book written by Sebastian Moore when he was very likely in his nineties. He had retired to his monastery after years of teaching in the United States. This, his last book, is entitled The Contagion of Jesus: Doing Theology as If It Mattered. I have read many of Sebastian Moore's works and I admire them greatly. In this book, however, more than ever before, I noted what seemed to me an unprecedented readiness to publish thoughts — homilies and essays — displaying a remarkable liberty of thought and creativity. They had been written over the years but had never previously been put to print. It occurred to me that retirement and being in the winter of one's life may have had something to do with this daring collection of thoughts. The aged were burned as witches or heretics in times past if they were suspected of straying from the path, but such abuse of power no longer is part of our religious practice today, thank God! What harm, really, can be done today to an ageing and retired theologian?
There is a certain freedom from domination that comes with retirement: seniors (even in the Catholic Church) may finally be able to say or write publicly what they have passionately thought for a long time (perhaps even for a lifetime) but most likely were never given the opportunity to voice openly. They may finally have the chance to be carefree and courageously to speak their truth. They may be able at last to redeem (free) themselves as teachers and scholars and to stir the embers of what may often appear as a dying fire. They may be able to do this — even if just a bit — to help liberate thought beyond the strictures of the academy into the evolving universe patiently waiting for us to "catch on."
This present book was inspired by what, rightly or wrongly, I intuited from my reading of Sebastian Moore's The Contagion of Jesus, as well as the books of John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg — some written in their retirement as well. They also speak of the "domination system," in both state and religious institutions, and of the reign of God that Jesus courageously proclaimed in opposition to it, and for which he died. While I was reflecting on what these scholars exemplified for me by speaking their truth openly, I happened quite synchronistically to come upon a 2007 book written by the well-respected French writer Olivier le Gendre, published in France by J. C. Lattès and titled: Confessions d'un cardinal. Le Gendre had been asked by a cardinal in Rome to interview him and write down his reflections on the church of today. The cardinal did not want his name mentioned. In his eighties and retired, he simply wanted to express in anonymity his concerns about the movement in our church as he saw it. He too models the freedom and the honesty that come with age — albeit in his case they are still somewhat restricted by where he lives.
There are a number of essays and lectures I have written in these past many years that have never made it into any of my previous books. There are also thoughts born of passionate musings that have fermented in my heart for years, thoughts that the teacher in me still wants to bring to the page. This book, at this time in my life (God willing), offers me that opportunity. It is not a closely structured and developed presentation working through one topic of particular concern, but rather a collection of thoughts (musings) sometimes overlapping and perhaps even at times repetitious for the sake of emphasis. The book may prove disturbing for some, exciting for others, or it may simply draw a "Yes!" from those who also have been thinking along the lines presented here and have been trying to contextualize their faith in a time-relevant manner.
As I have openly contended and frequently articulated, my research and involvement for most of the last thirty years of graduate teaching have been with the transformation of consciousness that is opening up for humanity during this time in history. We live in a period of radical change calling us toward realizations heretofore unheard of and unfathomed. The insights emerging in our day are demanding thoughtfulness and inner strength to let go of a paradigm that has held sway for several thousand years but is losing significance and power today.
I believe firmly that the revelations of our time are depending on us for articulation and conscious integration. Although they have been with us for a century or more and have already infiltrated our ways of seeing and thinking, albeit often unconsciously, they need to be formalized at this time in history; they need to be given the chance to enter into culturaland public awareness. On the religious and ethical front, these revelations offer us a paradigm to live by and pray in, a paradigm of transpersonal interconnectedness that will move us beyond fragmentation and toward global coordination and inclusiveness beyond creed, level of economic development, nationalism, and the endowment of natural resources. We are slowly being moved today to the existential realization that John Donne indeed was right: "No [one] is an island, entire of itself"; nor is any culture or economic structure isolated. "Every man [and woman] is a piece of the continent. ... If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were [so also is America, and Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica] ...; [anyone's] death diminishes me, because I am involved in [humankind]."
Like all paradigms before it, the paradigm presenting itself today with an ever greater urgency will not be a final and permanent model for understanding ourselves and our place in the world. It too will grow, develop, and change, as does the evolving human mind and heart where it finds its home. Today's model, however, is emerging for us and in our time. As such, it needs to be approached reverently and gratefully — for offering us today one further step into the Mystery that is our universe, pointing us to the divine unfolding there. Philosopher and systems theorist Ervin Laszlo assures us that
our consciousness is not a permanent fixture: cultural anthropology testifies that it developed gradually in the course of millennia. In the thirty- or fifty-thousand-year history of modern man, the human body did not change significantly, but human consciousness did. It evolved from simpler beginnings and, if humankind survives long enough, it will evolve further.
Numerous great spiritual traditions have affirmed Laszlo's view, as have contemporary philosophers and mystics from Jean Gebser and Richard Bucke to Bernard Boelen, Beatrice Bruteau, Ken Wilber, Chris Cowan, and Don Beck. Some of them speak from personal experience, as does the mystic Richard Bucke, whom I have cited elsewhere. Others speak from the fields of philosophy, biology, cultural anthropology, and social psychology. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit paleontologist and mystic, was among the first and most prolific writers in our time to apply the theory of evolution to spirituality. Much has happened in the past fifty or sixty years to support him and to adapt our faith vision to the evolving consciousness of our time. This book, written in the winter of my own life, is an attempt to continue and support this enterprise.
My meditations and musings on the Christian tradition — some short, others longer — are by no means meant to be reactionary. They are, quite honestly and simply, my soul questions into how and why I have come to recognize the need for the articulation of my faith in a twenty-first-century world-perspective. This present chapter, as well as the one that follows, were written to make this clear. My hope in exposing, to some extent, my own journey is to highlight the path that I, and many others like me, travel today in search of relevance and deeper meaning. This search, for those of us serious about our faith, is a life's task that involves serious study and research, but also quite often a painful having to let go for the sake of faithfulness, a living in the void for some time, and a patient and humble waiting in the hope of "a better dawn." Above all, however, it involves claiming our responsibility as adult believers to ask the depth questions into God. It impels us to keep looking for and claiming the treasure — that Love that surpasses all understanding but desires, nevertheless, to speak to us in our time and our context in order to be meaningful in every age, not only to the learned few, but to all and for the sake of all.
ON BEING A PILGRIM: A MEDITATION
At this time in history we are to take nothing personally. Least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt. Gather yourselves. ... All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and celebration. We are the ones we have been waiting for.
— Message from the Hopi Elders, Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation
Of late, spurred on by the questions of others, I have begun to reflect on my own pilgrim journey in greater detail. As strange as this may appear, it is not my habit to dwell on the specifics of my moving along my own spiritual path — on what I am doing, what spiritual practices I am engaged in. I sense somehow that I am involved with the Divine but often discover movement only in retrospect and with some surprise and puzzlement — not so much that it happened, but more, I suppose, how it did. Some spiritual directors may find this approach questionable, but, then, I have not had many spiritual directors. I have done mostly private and silent retreats and have relied more on soulmates in my life, on those who are with me on a journey not clearly marked out, full of the unexpected; a journey of un-programmed wonder and awe in the face of life as a whole. I have admired Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Ignatius, of course, but ever since the end of my novitiate days, I have resisted trying to figure out where I belonged in their scheme of things. A planned or programmed life has not seemed helpful to me and has, in fact, not worked out either. My dearest soulmate, Clare, one time told me that when she first met me, her impression was that I had simply stepped into her life and said, "Here I am, deal with me," and she did. Perhaps this is the attitude with which I have approached life in general and also God. And life as well as God does deal with me.
Excerpted from "On Becoming Who We Are"
Copyright © 2012 Sister Barbara Fiand.
Excerpted by permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 Musings
1 The Why of a Book Such as This 17
2 On Being a Pilgrim: A Meditation 27
Being Driven 29
Recognition and Waiting 30
Thoughts and Questions for Meditation 39
Part 2 Rattling the Idols: Reverencing the Holy
3 The Question of Idols 45
The Pseudo Holy 49
Idol One: Language 50
Idol Two: Gender 56
Idol Three: Permanence 57
Idol Four: Inerrancy 60
Historical Conundrum 65
4 Because We Have Never Done It 69
Interlude: Encountering One's Own Reality 78
"Lord, Where Shall We Go?" 82
Thoughts and Questions for Meditation 89
Part 3 God in Our Midst
5 A Dream 95
What We Were Taught 99
The Challenge 100
Focusing the Issue 104
Cultural Influences at the Time 107
6 What About Salvation? 111
The Domination System 113
The Vision of Jesus 115
7 On Being His Body 125
Be What You See; Become What You Are 128
Thoughts and Questions for Meditation 137
Part 4 Who Do You Say I Am?
8 The Cosmic Christ 143
It Began with an Encounter 143
The Cosmic Christ 147
9 On Becoming Who We Are: Divinity Unfolding 151
Questions in a Quantum Age 152
The Fear of Pantheism 156
Metaphor as God Language 158
On Touching the Heart 161
10 Approaching the Mystery 165
The Gods Have Fled 170
Virgin Mothering 177
The Sin of the World 181
The Primacy of Love 182
Thoughts and Questions for Meditation 184
What People are Saying About This
"In these passionate musings, Barbara Fiand leads us on a mystical trail, a soul quest, from the dark idolatry of a confused Church to the radiant presence of God in the sacredness of creation itself . . . A valuable resource." —Diarmuid O'Murchu, author, Christianity's Dangerous Memory