The modern desert

After some prayer and thinking I decided to expound on one of my comments that I made on www.glory2godforallthings.com/2014/01/03/the-difficulties-of-paradise/ . I said that in many ways the congregation of a cathedral/church in the city reflects the community of a monastery/convent in the desert. Unfortunately (I think) this comment was misinterpreted. I do not believe they are the same but belong to the same body, hence they do not contradict each other but complements each other. They also share some aspects. Anyway, I offer the following reflection that came to mind after reading the ensuing discussion.

The other day I went to a gathering of worship here in Saskatoon. The gathering gathers people from about 35 different churches. It’s called Saskatoon Worship Community.  This worship night would probably be labeled as ‘contemporary evangelical’ in style by most people. I attend the monthly worship nights because I have made a point of trying to get to know people in different church traditions here in Saskatoon. I attend because I believe it is important to establish relationships with people you do not fully agree with. This may seem strange but when it comes down to it we do not agree fully with anyone. We cannot even agree within our own self. So I believe it is necessary to practice. I believe that Love calls us to practice.

I say worship because during the evening I both observed and felt a deep desire among the attendees to praise God for Who He is, not what we want Him to be (which is very common, at least within my heart I confess). There is a longing to know Him deeper. Even though the style of music and prayer reminds me more of a secular concert, of secular entertainment, I see the hours of work involved so that more people may be touched by the gospel of Christ. I see young people stretching out in faith wanting Gods revelation.  It is adolescent, it is theologically questionable, it is even kind of ‘messy’, it is loud, it is not how I would shape a liturgy (for it is liturgy) to introduce the good news to a non-believer, but it is honest (as far as I can tell). Maybe I am the one with the longest road to go because I reflect on what is not proper theology? I ponder the proper expression of worship while I see about 500 20 something’s there, attending a worship service rather than posting ‘selfies’, buying legal marijuana in Colorado or getting wasted on some party. Maybe (probably) I have something to learn?

If there ever has been a great ‘desert’ in North American Christianity it is the ‘desert’ of entertainment culture that has been sneaking into every corner of our existence, from our bedrooms to our places of worship. This desert encourages pretense and hinders us to see what’s real. In many ways the movement called ‘evangelicalism’ that spread like wildfire some 100 years ago in North America, changing the culture, (for the better I would humbly suggest) is at this point very much the victim of that very culture it tried to shape (and this is not the first time in Church history this has hapened..).  It is being held captive to political agendas and it is not only that we have screens everywhere. We also have the binge watching of those screens. It is not only that we have capitalistic brands, we, as persons are being encouraged to become a brand in our ‘own right’. To market ourselves. To sell ourselves to the highest bidder (usually a ‘great career’.) The instant access to eternal self-indulging is here. Narcissism is on the verge of becoming our biggest religion, at least if we use the parameter; ‘What activity do I engage in the most.’

I say secular entertainment is a ‘desert’ because it is very hard to find true nutrition and water in such a landscape, there are mirages everywhere. It is easy to find fast food. It is easy to find a church building. It is easy to become online ‘friends’ with somebody. It is relatively easy to learn the songs, hire a ‘great’ worship team, and start a ‘project in Africa’. But it is hard to find a real spiritual guide/confessor, it is hard to truly nurture a covenant friendship. It is hard to remain present in your congregation when you may disagree with your priest or pastor. It is hard to establish solid , longlasting relationships with people in other cultures near and far. Yet, it is the hard things that will sustain us through the desert. It is the ‘slow food’ of love (proper) that will make us able to worship for eternity. This love goes both ways. It needs to be received at the Lords table but also distributed to the world by the Church, His body, broken for you.

I don’t believe that any individual, congregation or denomination is exempt from such a desert. (Orthodox, Catholic or Evangelical) We all have to enter it. This is to face reality. But what’s particularly dangerous with the secular entertainment ‘desert’ is that it claims that it is not a desert. It claims that it is paradise. But as I experienced last Saturday, Christ has entered this ‘desert’ as well, and if I come with a broken heart, a true desire to know Him, He reveals Himself.

So even though I do believe that the modern  ‘evangelical’ church in many ways has lost touch with her roots in terms of what worship is (not an activity or a feeling, but a state of being), she still in her thirst for feeling something in the desert might just lift a stone that reveals the source of life giving water. I believe that I can be a lot ‘better’ in making it easier for people to see what stones to lift and reveal the treasures in the desert that so many are looking for. For what does it say about me as a true person if I have a treasure, food and water and is not willing to share it with someone who is both poor, hungry and thirsty. And what does it say about me as a person if I think that I am not those very things?

In Christ,

fr. Jakob

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3 thoughts on “The modern desert

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful and compassionate reflection, Fr. Jakob.

    “Christ has entered this ‘desert’ as well, and if I come with a broken heart, a true desire to know Him, He reveals Himself.”

    While there are undoubtedly some paths (churches, worship and prayer styles) that lead us to God more readily than others, Christ knows our hearts. And when they are broken, He does not turn us away. In fact, He is in the desert searching for us – to paraphrase your words.

  2. Hi Mary, I agree that there are structures for the work of the people (the called out ones, liturgy) that has been tried by time and been proven to hold true. I also believe that the moment we stop to inquire (not in a rebelious way but in a curiousway) about why we do this or that, in that very moment, something dies that should not die.Wish you a blessed day, In Christ, fr. Jakob

  3. Thank you Fr. Jakob. An excellent reflection. Surely we are all in danger of being lost, no matter which church or spirituality we’ve found. Surely all of our hearts are broken and in need of being bound up. And one of the essentials facts that we seem to be most ignorant of here in 21st century North America is that this healing and finding can only occur through real relationships – with God and our fellow human beings. Neither distraction (entertainment) nor false face time (social media) nor drugs nor food nor any other thing that can be bought or bartered for on this planet will suffice.

    But those are made through freedom and mutual agreement and thus are the most fragile, the most without guarantees and the hardest to maintain. And thus witness just how industrious we are in looking for any other way!

    I appreciate your reflections on the ecumenical service you attended. I think we are out of practice at being next to someone and not judging them, allowing ourselves to live next to other people who have seemingly radical different beliefs than we do – and being OK with that.

    I’m reminded once again of Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand. He gave story after story about how the less significant differences fell away as people of all different faiths came together involuntarily in prisons. It became incredibly to see who was being Christ to his fellow man and who was not. No one needed to proclaim their allegiances with words.

    Thanks once again for your honest and insightful words.

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