Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Restless Hearts

 As a deer longs for flowing streams,
     so my soul longs for you, O God.
 My soul thirsts for God,
     for the living God.  
         from Psalm 42

"Our hearts are restless until they find rest in you."  So said Augustine of Hippo some 16 centuries ago. The book of Acts quotes the Apostle Paul speaking of a human inclination to "search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him..." Some writers in spirituality have said that this restlessness to find God is the beginning of spirituality.  And if you walk through the Spirituality section in your local Barnes & Nobles, or if you search the topic at Amazon.com, your will find ample evidence that this restlessness is as strong as ever in our "post religious" age.

This would seem to be wonderful news for the Church, this realization that, in a time of shrinking congregations, people are groping, searching, and longing for God. I think it is good news, but it does require that congregations become places that feel open, welcome, and inviting to those who are groping, searching, and longing.

Many of us in the Church grew up in a very settled religious landscape. People might experience a time of restlessness, such as when they went off to college, but there was a basic assumption that religious questions were settled ones. Restlessness was a phase some young people went through, but its primary religious implication was a period of time away from church.

But for a variety of reasons, old patterns of restlessness have broken down. The religious landscape itself is far from settled, and becoming older and more settled no longer means a return to church. Indeed, the term "return" no longer applies because many were never in church as children to begin with.  Restlessness, and particularly religious restlessness, is no longer a phase people go through at some predictable moment in their lives.  Rather it is a desire, a longing for something that is not fully known.

Congregations have a tremendous opportunity to assist people whose restlessness has them searching and longing. But I think that requires a subtle shift for some of us. It does not change our core beliefs or proclamation, but it does mean becoming more of a place for restless people. As I look back, my childhood notion of church is a settled place for a settled people. But in a new day and age, I think it needs to become more of a place where restless people can find their rest in God.

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