On the Threshold

by Sandra Kerka, Spirituality Network newsletter, Fall 2012

Spiritual or religious? Diana Butler Bass’s answer to this question, the topic of her keynote address at the Spirituality Network’s 25th anniversary celebration on June 1, 2012, is “both/and.” This response was appreciated by an audience of Wellstreams graduates and contemplative friends of the Network for whom this paradox is a way of being. Presenting material from her recent book, Christianity after Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, Bass offered hope to many who have been disturbed by the current divisive political climate in the United States and in mainstream churches.

But before we can rise, we have to fall. So she began by citing statistics that paint a gloomy picture of the future of religion. For example, 40% of people under 40 say they do not believe in God; 1 in 10 Americans now considers themselves an ex-Catholic; in a 1999 survey 54% of Americans responded that they were “religious but not spiritual” but by 2009, that response dropped to 9%.

Then Bass reminded us that when it is darkest, awakening is at hand. In her June 2 presentation, “Christianity after Religion: Exploring the Future of Faith,” she depicted an arc that has characterized several waves of spiritual awakening, through which the worldview and practices of a culture are altered. In each of these waves, the culture has descended from institutional crises through grief and fear to new visions and new questions, shifting upward with increasing hope and courageous action that result in transformation. In what Bass calls the Fourth Great Awakening beginning in the late 20th century, the stirrings of Vatican II, environmentalism, and the women’s movement among others met a strong backlash that has temporarily swung the arc back to fear. Now we sit on the threshold between fear and hope.

As Bass addressed what needs to happen to move things upward again, a clear role for organizations such as the Spirituality Network emerged. As individuals grapple with spiritual questions that do not yet have formal institutional expression, the Network offers a safe, nonjudgmental, ecumenical space in which to voice them and collaboratively create new ways of being spiritual. Spiritual direction plays an important part in helping people claim the authority of their inner experience and reconcile it with the experience of religious authority. In training spiritual directors through Wellstreams and connecting seekers with spiritual directors through referrals, the Network helps build and strengthen the corps of companions for the journey.

As its mission and logo proclaim, the Network can serve as a bridge over these troubled waters to the living water for which many thirst. Above all, the message of Bass’s presentation is that we must be angels to each other, declaring: Have faith, fear not! Let the Kingdom come.