REFLECTIONS: Mapping the spiritual landscape
“Like any other map, mine had both a center and an edge. At the center stood the Church, where good women baked communion bread, ironed altar linens, and polished silver that had been in the church family for generations. Parents presented their cildren for baptism, and those children grew up with dozens of church aunts and uncles who knew them by name. The Christian education committee recruited Sunday school teachers, the youth group leaders planned pizza parties at the bowling alley, and the choir rehearsed from 6:30 to 8:00 in the parish house on Thursday nights. At the center, some people never picked up a prayer book on Sunday morning becaus they knew the communion service by heart, and even those who had to look said the Nicenne Creed all the way through without leaving any parts of it out. These people at the center kept the map from blowing away.
As it turned out the edge of the map was not all that far from the center. It was not as if I or anyone else had to take a mule train for three weeks to find ourselves in the wildrerness. All we had to do was step outside the Church and walk to where the lights from the sanctuary did not pierce the darkness anymore. All we had to do was lay down the books we could no longer read and listen to the howling that our favoriite hymns so often covered up. There were no slate roofs or signs to the restroom out there, no printed programs or friendly ushers. There was just the unscripted encounter with the undomesticated God whose name was unpronounceable — that and a bunch of flimsy tents lit up by lanterns inside, pitched by those who were either seeking such an encounter or huddling in their sleeping bags while they recovered from one. These people at the edge kept the map from becoming redundant.
According to the Bible, both the center and edge are essential to the spiritual landscape, although they are as different from one another as they can be. The wilderness of Sinai provided the people of Israel with an experience of God that was distinct from their experience in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Judean desert showed Jesus a side of God’s Holy Spirit that was not apparent while magi knelt before his manger in Bethlehem. There is life in both places because the same God is in both places, but they are so different from one another that it is often difficult for people to be one place without wanting to be the other place or to agree that both places really belong on the same map. Much that is certain at the center is up for grabs in the wilderness, while much that is real in the wilderness turns out to be far too feral for the center.”
– Barbara Brown Taylor, in Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith