East Illuminates West

Column by Support - Progressing Spirit on 8 June 2023 0 Comments

The East-West spiritual encounter has been profoundly formative for progressive Christianity.  Experiencing the meditative practices of the East has inspired us to explore the previously neglected contemplative tradition of our faith. 

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I love my church. I feel like they are my community and family of choice. The rituals of church service are important, but they are so outdated and out of touch with modern living - how will the church evolve, or can the church evolve to be more relevant? 


Dear Carol,

I get it. Many congregations that embrace progressive Christian theology have liturgies and aspects of worship that feel to be in conflict with the loving and inclusive words shared in sermons – or simply antiquated and stuck in the past. This shows up in litanies, prayers, and hymns that seem to condone the substitutionary theory of the atonement “it’s all about the blood!”; in language about God that is solely masculine and conveys the toxic masculinity of coercive power and authoritarianism; in Calls to Worship that are cis- and hetero-normative; and in words that maintain a rather stunted understanding of salvation as solely personal (and not also systemic) and as treating Christianity as primarily being about “sin management” instead of about fostering personal and societal healing, wholeness, well-being, liberation, empowerment, and thriving in life – true salvation. Many inspiring progressive sermons have been undermined by hymns, litanies, and prayers that are convey certain evangelical 19th and early 20th Century sensibilities.

There are creative resources available to freshen things up. Check out the Celtic resources of CCC, and the Iona Community. See the work of Ruth Duck, and the womanist “Black Liturgies” of Cole Arthur Riley. Check out the Progressive Liturgy Project.  See these resources on Sojourners and also Working Preacher. Also consider worship resources that are inclusive of people with special needs. And, explore the resources put out by the Community of Christ and the SALT Project.

I’m delighted to have been assigned your question to answer as I’ve just written a book aimed at helping expand the range of spiritual practices for contemporary Christians. Discovering Fire: Spiritual Practices That Transform Lives describes some 30 practices ranging from centering prayer, lectio divina, and labyrinth walking – to dreamwork, shadow-work, deep being in nature, yoga, tarot cards, ecstatic dance, kirtan chanting, authentic relating, and more. Many younger Christians are already engaging in these to varying degrees and they would simply LOVE to be part of church communities that wove some of those practices into what they offer.

~ Rev. Roger Wolsey




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