“Why then are we divided?” That was a question I overheard a retreat participant ask the person sitting next to him. In fact the question was raised as I was trying to articulate the significance of the soul over the body, or personality.
There is no doubt that western society devotes disproportionate attention to the body and personality and very little to the soul. Think of the enormous investment in healthcare. In terms of mindset too, think about education. We emphasize medicine, engineering, computer science, finance and the like, but we have no hesitancy to support the defunding of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The larger questions those in the retreat were asking themselves were: One, how is scripture speaking to you and two, how are you responding?
Those questions reminded me of two stories from a Christian health center where I served as a volunteer chaplain. My initial call at the center was to lead devotions and prayers for the medical staff. Marsha came to me one day asking my opinion about her daughter.
“She was raised Catholic”, she said. “Now she describes herself as a “none”. Sounds familiar? “She will have nothing to do with church”, she continued. “But she is the finest human being you will ever meet and she immerses herself in anything spiritual”. In the course of our discussion I found out that Marsha’s daughter is alienated from the church because, one she sees an authoritarian institution, and second, the institution does not let her think for herself.
I hope you are not hearing this for the first time.
After several discussions about her daughter’s spirituality and lack of church affiliation I asked Marsha about her home church.
“I don’t belong to a church”, she said, “but I am spiritual”. Another familiar expression, isn’t it? “But I grew up Catholic”, she continued, “Italian Catholic”. And why no church now? The same complaints around alienation! I did not have any doubts about Marsha’s spirituality.
I also remembered Edna, a social worker at the health center who always referred her patients to me. She was fully convinced that healing mental and behavioral issues go hand in hand with healing the soul. But she never came to our morning devotions.
So, one day I asked her about her home church.
“I don’t have a church”, she said. “I don’t like church. My husband is Catholic and if I were to have a church it would not be Catholic”. Curiosity led me to make further inquiries. “Why is that?’
She gave a short answer: “I don’t like the way they treat women!”
Spirituality affirms the unity of humanity. Scriptures too affirm that, for example when Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 28). And in the case of Marsha and her daughter and Edna, they are, in my judgment, as Christian as any Christian could be, but they are not in a church.
The Catholic Church may have the unfortunate burden of bearing all religions’ ill-treatment of women – and may atone for that too – but there are many churches where Paul’s claims of gender equality are far from near reality. Nevertheless, spirituality has no gender; and spirituality unites.