Stuck in the mud

Sometimes, a walk can get you thinking. It was a nice day in late November, and I’d not yet introduced myself to the Christine Center’s larger of two ponds, so I strolled over. Wanting a closer look, I left the trail and stepped toward the water’s edge—and immediately sunk to my ankles in thick muck. I was literally stuck in the mud, unable to move.

To get free, I had to slip out of my shoes and step to drier ground in my stocking feet. As I walked home to clean up, the thought hit me that I’d just experienced a metaphor for transitional moments in life: So often, we are stuck, unable to move forward, and the only way to free ourselves is to let go of what got us to that point.

The fastest growing spiritual demographic group is the “nones,” those who have given up their churches, their dogmas, and their faiths for the sake of moving forward, just as I had to give up my shoes. More than 23 percent of U.S. adults now fall in this category. All too frequently, it’s assumed that having no affiliation with organized religion means having no spiritual life. They are nones, not “dones.” It’s not that they are done with spirituality, it’s that they are in exile—wandering, yearning, searching, and without a spiritual home.

I can relate. Although my upbringing was Christian, my spiritual life is broader. It’s always evolving. I remember my dad, who was an evangelical pastor, telling me how much deeper his spiritual life became after he retired from the pulpit. Someone from his past once challenged him on his changes, saying he wasn’t the same man he used to be, and Dad replied with a smile and gentle tone, “Yes, thank God.”

My own evolving spirituality makes me a poor fit with any specific religious denomination, so I find myself in exile. I think that’s why I feel so welcomed, so peaceful, so at home here at the Christine Center. This is a place made for seekers. There is no dogma here. Journeys are not judged. We not only accept spiritual evolution, we encourage and celebrate it. Spirituality here is related to movement, flow, growth, change. On a spiritual path, you never get there, because there is no “there.”

The faith in which I was reared was full of seekers and exiles. Diana Butler Bass, author of Grounded, points to the many biblical stories of exile: the Hebrews had a history of living in exile; the story of Exodus is a kind of exile story; Abraham and Sarah were sent into exile; the prophets were usually exiles of one kind or another; even Jesus and his earliest followers–women, slaves, and other oppressed people—were all exiled from place, position, power. The history of Christianity, too, is a story of spiritual movements driven by exiles–mendicant monks and nuns, travelers and pilgrims, and such.

Bass calls this “nomadic spirituality.” It’s a term I like. To find what we seek, we must let go and move. Our view at the Christine Center is that seekers, exiles, wanderers, nomads and nones are safe here, welcome here, cherished here. They don’t need to be converted or corrected. One of the first things I discovered here is a vibrant spirituality, a living spirituality, and—for most people of faith—a desired but exceedingly rare spirituality of movement and exploration. There is a beautiful, exciting blend of the old and the new here, a mix of feeling at home and exploring horizons. It’s a fusion that calls, comforts, and compels.

Bass writes, “That is, after all, the biblical and historical example: That new birth happens at the edges, where people are willing to wander, to let go of what is settled and comfortable and walk….” Just as I, at the edge of the pond, had to let go of my shoes to escape from being stuck.

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