The medieval mystic, Hildegard of Bingen began to have visions as a very young girl. Her parents decided that it would be best for her to enter a monastery where she was educated by a fellow anchoress and the monks there. As she grew into an adult she became oppressed by what she felt was the corruption of the priests and monks. So she picked up her skirts, fled into the countryside, and established her own convent where she wrote down her visions and some very beautiful music.
For me this is a perfect illustration of how a person of profound faith can come to feel a serious disconnection with the church.
I relate to her story. But there are differences in our storylines.
First, in my church history I have rarely come across a priest that I would consider corrupt.
One of the priests of my childhood had an affair outside his marriage, divorced, and married his lover. This caused a kind of quiet-rumble scandal. This priest grew to regret his choices because it took away his freedom to be a rector. The church very kindly took pity on his suffering and allowed him to serve as a supply priest (one who fills in for another).
Later in my life there was a priest who was eventually caught trying to steal money from a church. Money that was to go for very ungodly pursuits. But that scandal, too, was handled quietly.
As an Anglican and therefore part of the great church that calls itself that – no matter the variety of expressions – I read very occasionally about various scandals perpetrated around the world.
But the feeling that the priests in this denomination are corrupt is not a real thing for me.
Another difference between us is that Hildegard was welcomed with love when she first entered the monastery.
All I have to do is be me and show up at church to be unwelcomed. Officially or otherwise.
I don’t know if I’ve told this story before, but when I was around seven or eight I had my first disconnection with a priest.
I grew up from a very young age studying under God all about the nature of creation. I found it confusing that my experience of church differed from my direct experience of God.
Then one day, a visiting priest got up in the pulpit and spoke words that I could relate to. I was ecstatic.
After church I imagined I babbled my joy to him and shared with him some of my thoughts.
I remember he was very patient with me. Stood still until I was finished.
Then said, “Julia, don’t ever speak to a priest like that again.”
And that was my very first experience of being hard-kicked out of the church.
“Sit down and shut up” are on the kinder end of the words of banishment.
“You are the problem with the church; we don’t want you here” are on the other end.
From my denomination, at least.
From another denomination (Roman) comes the ultimate: “If you were in this church, we would want you dead.”
Pretty much defines the very concept of disconnection.
I have been mulling this whole state-of-things lately, and was shocked to my shoes when today in church I realized that Jesus Christ failed to connect with his church, too.
He gave it his best to be part of his church. Teaching, healing, etc. But, like Hildegard, Jesus was profoundly affected by what he considered the corruption of the priesthood.
I’m a person who doesn’t read the parable of the Good Samaritan as a story about the kindness of strangers. I read it as a condemnation of the priests and Pharisees.
And not a very subtle one.
We all know that the death of Jesus was preordained by God.
But do we know if God had planned for the church to the means of his death?
We know that Jesus knew he was going to be betrayed. That one of those men he held as a friend, cherished as a beloved, and tenderly washed the feet of was going to betray him.
This whole dynamic makes it that the infinitely precious gift of the Christian church is balanced on the stem of betrayal.
It was the church that paid the price for Christ’s death.
30 argýria, i timí: 30 pieces of silver, the price
i timí: the price
Money that needs to be repaid to the church by Judas so that he can be forgiven and healed.
It is the act of betrayal that lead directly to the apostle’s Earthly death.
Speculation on why people go to desperate lengths to separate God from the church can go on forever.
I tend to lean toward a theory that people don’t like the feelings of guilt that scrape in their souls when their idea of God flares up.
But there are two things that I think of when considering this matter. There are, to be honest, many more things about God that can be considered but these are the two that are close to my heart today.
First, it’s a matter of movement.
God moves forward.
God does not move backward.
If we are caught on a thorn of feeling guilty about something we have done, then instead of going backward and obsessing on the matter, move forward and do something about the sin. Confess it. Atone for it. Ask for forgiveness. All that.
This is God’s continuing gift to all of us: forgiveness.
We tend to hide from God because we don’t trust God to keep his word to love us.
Why would the high priest of the church in Jerusalem work so hard to get Jesus killed?
Because, I imagine, somewhere in there was a feeling to protect the church from Jesus. A church based on laws is having its very foundation dug up by a charismatic preacher who confronts these laws at every turn.
Adulteresses should be forgiven.
People can be healed on the Sabbath.
The gift of a poor widow should be respected.
Everything. Turned upside-down just through the words and actions of a wandering healer.
How can we let the church be turned upside-down like this?
So Jesus was disconnected from the church.
Going back even further in scripture we find a chronicle of how even God had routine difficulties staying connected with the church that he created.
Odd that, I think.
He chooses a people to represent him on Earth, and at every turn of a corner his people find ways to disconnect.
As God tries again and again to push his flock forward in faith the flock scatters, falls into brambles, get subsumed into another flock.
It is no wonder that when God sent Jesus to Earth he came, in part, as the Good Shepherd.
I can just hear God saying to Jesus, Here. You do it. You keep them in line.
Second, it’s a matter of understanding spiritual warfare.
Here is the best way to sum it up:
All healing is spiritual warfare.
All spiritual warfare is an opportunity to heal.
When God goes to battle with a man it is a process that is intended to force the person into a state of healing.
God does not go from love to hate. God can, however, become a physician whose only concern is to save a person.
Healing is not always a pleasant experience.
But it is always an expression of God’s love.