Saturday, 24 February 2007

A Saga of Faith

  • A Saga of Faith Remove Formatting from selection
    (A Search for Meaning)

    Many years ago I came across four lines of verse:-

    I sought to hear the voice of God,
    I climbed up on a steeple.
    And then I heard a voice that said,
    ‘Go down I live among the people'

These words intrigued me. Recently I’ve been looking at the fuller story of my faith journey, and the search for meaning throughout my life. I have decided to write this saga in a similar though irregular verse.
I share the Saga with apologies to Shakespeare, W.B.Yeats, and all other poets.

I was born in Fermoy, Co. Cork, ...Dec. '42
In one of the bleakest months of the war,
My family were Catholics 'forever',
And I was baptized as an infant for sure.

As a boy I felt loved and secure.
We were a family happy and strong.
Home and church gelled together
I knew where I’d always belong!!

The Christian Brothers were my teachers
‘The Catechism’ I learned in class.
The Church’s teaching I here absorbed;
Dogmas, morals, the Bible and Mass.

At eighteen years - adulthood ahead,
A vocation stirred within.
To the priesthood I felt called by God.
To the seminary - formation to begin. ..Sep '61

We studied philosophy and theology,
From professors who wanted no blame.
The content – ‘The Catechism’ developed!!
Orthodoxy, the name of the game.

I remember one lecture in dogma.
When I asked a real question in hope
Then came a reply in an instant:-“Mr. Bartley,
Do you think you know more than the Pope”?

When Pope John XXIII was at the helm.
The Vatican Council promised new yeast,
Freedom and tolerance beckoned ahead!
Optimism abounded - I was ordained priest. Jun '67

The following year, oh what a blow!!
'Humane Vitae’, from Pope Paul. .....July '68
His birth control teaching stunned the world,
Great disillusionment - I shared with all.

In our parishes we tried to make sense of it
Conscience was given top priority.
I had no issues with God just then,
But the Church, and its use of authority!

At a deeper level I loved the Church,
The Mass, Sacraments and liturgy,
The awe experienced at Benediction,
Saints, martyrs and mystics inspired me.

I disliked the self-importance of our Church
Which seemed to be lacking humanity,
I preferred ecumenical gatherings,
With the focus on a wider Christianity.

I searched for meaning where I could
Surely the Holy Spirit was the key?
‘Charismatic Renewal’, I found exciting,
Praying in tongues proved radical and free.

I came to realize before too long
That fundamentalism was not for me.
I looked with interest to Buddhism
And - ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’.

In ‘Faith and Light’ we sought to build
Little groups into Christian communities.
We gathered with families and friends of those
Who had Learning disabilities.

I loved Scott Peck’s ‘Road Less Travelled’,
And ‘The Different Drum’s new way,
Jean Vanier’s books, inspired me,
Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’ enlightened my day.

Community building was an on-going focus:-
Pilgrimages to Lourdes, each year,
The ‘Cursillo’ and ‘Marriage Encounter’,
Experiences profound and most dear.

Meanwhile, Camus and Sartre, were read
The existentialists had many a disciple?
Could humanism be all there is in life?
And beyond that - ‘the opium of the people’?

At this time I read:- ‘The Christian Neurosis’,
Where 'Church education' is explored.
The conflict between Canon Law and freedom,
Leading many to neuroses, not to ignored.

A statement about life being meaningless,
One that I found frightful and annoying,
Was:- “Life’s a bitch and then you die” -
Could anything be more soul destroying?

Hope from Bishop Hélder Camara of Brazil,
Who saw Jesus as Liberator of the Oppressed.
Liberation Theology, - rich and rare,
Rome, whiffed Communism, and couldn’t digest.

“I give food to the poor, they call me a saint;
I ask why the poor have no food? - I'm a Communist”.
Camara called on Youth to break the spiral of violence,
To which their elders are so often addicted. A realist!

About this time I also found insightful:-
‘The God I Don’t Believe in’ by Juan Arias,
And ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People’
By Kushner. Radical stuff, and not pious.

Concerning the Church - I had many a quandary:
‘Lording it over others’, a thing I always resented,
In dogma, the literal has only limited meaning,
With compulsory celibacy, which the Church invented.

So many questions! I was very confused,
I sought out a counsellor true,
Her loving listening, moved me gently along;
It needed patience, but at last I knew what to do.

At a traumatic time, between fear and hope,
Commitment to Priesthood I brought to an end...June '87 Having spoken to family and trusted friends,
I went to my bishop, no intention to offend.

A difficult interview, two positions unbending.
My words had been chosen, but not my emotion,
He spoke of the scandal and my sinfulness too.
As for agreement, we were at two ends of an ocean.

Special things I recall about this time of transition.
The freedom I felt, and what was hard to envision,
The encouragement, received from Mum, family, friends
And so many parishioners who trusted my decision.

A new era dawned, when my friend Ellen said ‘yes’!
We became man and wife in a simple wedding. ... Feb. '88
In time we were blessed with our first born, Tom. .. Apr '89
Three years later Joe’s smile doubled the blessing. ..Oct. '92

At this time, I first attended the Quakers, .........July '88
Among the Friends I felt very much grounded.
Wondrous silent worship, with prayerful ministry.
Dogma was absent, while tolerance abounded.

On the outside all was going smoothly,
I loved being manager of the ‘House of Light’.
Work and 'family life' could hardly be better:
But a void was still there - my inner plight.

I studied Carl Jung, and his positive psychology,
‘The Christian Way’, offered insight and width.
‘The Guild for Psychological Studies’ opened up
A new understanding of Gospel and Myth.

In the myth of - the scabby god became the sun.
Here I discovered possibilities of transformation.
In ‘Jesus of Montreal’, I found insights rich,
In this film, the man Jesus, could rock a nation.

Among the Quaker books that spoke to me
Were Jim Pym’s ‘Listening to the Light’
And Thomas Kelly’s ‘Testament of Devotion’;
While ‘Advices and Queries’ - such a delight.

As the years slipped by, new issues slipped in.
At work came pressures, dictated from above.
Red tape and bureaucracy, take over the soul.
Mistrust and inspections, go hand-in-glove.

I began to loose spark, life became a chore, .... 1999
I felt my good humour gradually ebb away.
I lost much enthusiasm, wit had escaped me,
My faith took a plunge - I was back in disarray.

With Friends I kept attending Sunday meetings;
Not always easy, but seemed the right thing to do.
In a group, I worked with ‘The Course in Miracles’
But found it too much, more than I could chew.

In time more changes were forced upon me,
I experienced being put through the mill.
My working life came abruptly to an end,
As depression moved in for the kill!

In time, joy had totally vanished, .......Dec. '02
I found myself deep in a hole.
Some called what happened ‘a break down’
Others ‘a dark night of the soul’.

My weakened faith began to crumble,
Had I come to the end of the road?
Live or die, I didn’t care – this couldn’t go on?
Meaningless living - the ultimate dead load.

I was more ‘down than up’ for four long years,
Ellen and the boys were patient and true.
Then at last the beginnings of recovery,
First a spark, a flame, then an evening hue.

Life’s purpose ran its course and recovery came,
Aided by counselling, medication and bed.
The bleakness gone - peace and joy returned,
And I felt truly that I’d risen from the dead. ..Sep '06

During my depression, I had surrendered to Life
My mind, which had long been my master.
Then I experienced 'Being' - my deepest Self,
A new life dawned - a new understanding of Pastor.

Through ‘The Power of Now’ and ‘A New Earth’,
Eckhart Tolle helped me move out of my head.
From an enslavement to incessant thinking,
To feelings of wholeness and oneness instead.

No flash of lightening or ‘wow’ experience for me
But a deep peace as in the ‘now’ I rejoice,
I learned to let go of resisting ‘what is’
And to be in touch with life’s energy, by choice.

Meditation, helped move some confusion away,
The gifts of silence and space hold a key.
I can stop my thinking from dominating
And be attentive to the small voice in me.

For now, I know that I’m ‘ home’ again.....Feb. '07
With family and friends so dear.
I have no worries about the past.
And the future holds nothing to fear.

My Conclusions:
I give thanks to God who is above, below, all round and especially within. He/She has been dealing with a slow learner, who for years ‘lived in his head’ and experienced ‘an abyss’ at the centre of his stomach. So often I’ve said with Rosy Ryan (Ryan’s Daughter): - ‘There must be more’. In the film Fr. Collins answers, ‘Is it because Rosy Ryan says there must’? I suggest it is because we can experience this ‘more’ for ourselves. The Buddha and Jesus spoke of a fuller life, and so have countless others down the centuries. So often our egos get in the way of our experiencing the deeper Self, which is the source of true peace, joy and love. I sense that I’m back where I belong. The void within me has gone.
My journey has taken me from the security of a childlike faith, through the ‘white knuckle’ faith of fundamentalism, where God is known out there, through a Church, a Religion or a Holy Book. My journey then took me forward through the questioning, the doubts and the confusions of an agnostic.
This part of the faith journey is the one that Church people have the most difficulty with. It is full of paradox. They usually only see empty pews, and they fail to see the hearts of those who are searching and asking honest questions. Maybe it is the suppression of their own unasked questions that causes this block. For those who proceed with the search for meaning or a more meaningful faith a 'dark night' seems to be an almost unavoidable phase in the journey. These are genuine people, many of them are young and in every walk of life but perhaps especially in our colleges and universities. They often feel caught between a rock and a hard place. They don't wish to return to a fundamentalism as found in many Christian Fellowships but they are often regarded as 'lapsed' by their own Church. It would be wonderful if all Churches could really value these individuals, appreciate and respect where they are at, and facilitate their journey of faith. Many are authentic 'seekers', and one day, please God, their faith will re-emerge but changed like a beautiful butterfly. A cocoon cannot be prized open without damaging the butterfly within, but when the time is right, through nature and the movement of its wings the butterfly will free itself into a new way of being.
At last, thankfully, I have moved out of the quagmire of questions and doubt. I am happy to join those, who in the midst of life’s insecurities, can stand with hands held wide open to all that life may bring, trusting in the God who is known, not in the head or the mind, but through a deeper inner experience.
I have no idea what the future holds but I am confident that my life has meaning and purpose, I hope to continue to live in the 'now', accepting 'what is' and trusting the guidance of the small inner voice, through which life at its best directs our conscience. Like many Christians I like to call, the reality experienced ‘God’, though many others call this same reality by a variety of different names. It is not the words we use that are important but the authenticity of the experience, which goes beyond all words.
‘All shall be well’. Deo Gratias.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Why Quakers Should Be More Warlike

Several years ago I was involved in an intensive period of peace campaigning. I protested at Faslane, blockaded an arms factory, disputed with directors at the BAE Systems shareholders’ meeting, trespassed at the nuclear submarine base at Barrow, and vigilled outside the DESAi arms fair. These were exciting and challenging experiences, but I came away from them with growing doubts about the peace groups I had worked with. How did the methods we adopted actually contribute towards achieving our goals? Were we contributing to a more peaceful world or just expressing our frustration and fuelling our own self-righteousness?

The tradition of active nonviolence developed by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King is concerned with actively resisting oppression, while respecting the humanity of our opponents. It involves seeking out possibilities for dialogue, which preserve the possibility of learning from people we are in conflict with, as well as the potential for eventual reconciliation. I have to say that while we sometimes paid lip-service to this principle, in the groups I was in it was rarely visible in our actions.

Often it was also unclear to me just how our campaigning was intended to help bring about the changes that we wanted to see. In what way did vigilling outside an arms factory or getting arrested for trespassing on a nuclear submarine base actually have an effect upon the arms trade or nuclear weapons? I could see the significance of some of these actions as forms of religious testimony or witness, especially where we were explicit about the faith basis of those taking part. This is something different, though, to actually having an influence on the power structures of militarism.

The effectiveness of active nonviolence is supposed to be based upon an understanding of power as a product of cooperation among many different groups in society, so that all of those involved in a situation of conflict or oppression have a share of power and can contribute to creating social change. But this relies on campaigners doing the work of analysing carefully the nature of the power structures and relationships involved in military and political decision-making, and crafting their campaigns in order to have an impact on those processes.

In thinking about this, I was very much encouraged by an article by Chuck Fager, of Quaker House in the USA, who writes of the need for peacemakers to learn from the military in 'A Quaker Declaration of War' . He argues that just as the military are able to plan long-term strategy in terms of decades or even a century ahead, the peace movement should be planning for generations of struggle against militarism, and making the necessary investment in training and infrastructure to prepare each new generation of movement leaders and activists. He also emphasises how the military use careful documentation and study of military history to learn how to become more effective war-makers. By contrast, peacemakers' knowledge and analysis of our history of nonviolent struggle tends to be patchy, superficial and almost completely unresourced. Do we know what factors contributed to Gandhi's successful nonviolent movement for Indian independence? How did the American civil rights movement mobilise the federal government to enforce racial de-segregation, and what limits did it encounter in trying to mobilise Black Americans in the north? Perhaps you are better informed than me, but I have to admit to being a bit hazy about the answers, despite these being the two most world-famous nonviolent movements in modern history. It's unlikely that a British army officer would be similarly uninformed about World War II or Vietnam.

There is an urgent need for a more long-term focus to our peace work, especially training and nurturing new generations of activists, and schooling ourselves in the lessons of nonviolent campaigns from around the world. A more effective peace movement might also include centres for the study and practice of active nonviolence, where training and reflection was integrated with practical campaigning. If we want a peace movement that is able to present a real challenge to violence and oppression, perhaps we should be considering how we can build this kind of infrastructure to develop and sustain new generations of active peacemakers.