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The Non-Laity

We were talking last night about our inward journey—what we are doing spiritually for ourselves—and I was describing a blog I had recently started following. “He’s a priest,” I said, “but—.” I stopped and laughed. I was about to say, “But I like what he has to say.” He’s a priest, but. Sometimes if I listen to myself, i can learn a lot about what I think.

This episode made me wonder: what is it I find lacking when it comes to the non-laity? I’m using this word non-laity instead of ordained because I know a bunch of ordained clergy who I respect immensely. These men and women, however, don’t create a barrier between me as laity and themselves as ordained. Which leads me to the first thing my brain thinks about non-laity:

I can’t connect spiritually with the non-laity
We put such proscribed limits and expectations on the non-laity, and unfortunately they comply, presenting to us what they believe we have told them we want to see. The maintenance of an acceptable philosophy, demeanor, thought process, phraseology, etc. means the non-laity are hiding who they really are. The only way you can connect with the spirit in someone else is to see that spirit. If the non-laity are busy being who they perceive their audience wants them to be, then we are unable to connect spiritually with those who are supposed to be enriching our spiritual lives. This is a problem.

The non-laity never talk about God
Yes, the non-laity talk about what God wants, how God acts, what God is telling us to do, but they never talk about their personal experience of God in this world. I am trying to remember the last time I heard a non-laity say, “I felt God enter our space.” I know they must experience God—too many people come to them in too many diverse circumstances searching for God for God not to be present an extraordinary number of times. But they don’t talk about it. Leaving the rest of us to put God in an analytical box we struggle to understand with our minds rather than experiencing God as a living breathing presence in this world.

The non-laity preach all the time
This is not meant to be funny. The non-laity are always talking at people. Telling us what to think, how to act, what to believe. They never ask: what do you think? If they do, usually you can detect the agenda running underneath their words as they try to subtly guide you in a defined direction, more like a law professor practicing the Socratic method than a searcher, really. I don’t think this is a function of hubris; I believe it’s because they’ve spent so much time trying to figure out this religion thing and they want to help us figure it out too. But instruction doesn’t have to come from preaching. It can come through horizontal modeling, if you’re willing to give up a hierarchical perception of being in charge.

The non-laity use un-evolved language
God isn’t a male person; God isn’t a person. God isn’t even an a. God is the force that moved across the face of the waters at the beginning of time, the burning in the bush, the quiet after the wind whistled past the cave. Any personification of God limits God and, worse, it casts on God attributes of ourselves: jealousy, anger, petulance, resentment, sadness, vengeance, disappointment, pride, etc. Once you start talking like this, you’re soon thinking like this, and you wind up less than one step removed from the Roman and Greek belief in Jupiter and Zeus, just rolled all into one.

The bottom line? I’m afraid I start from a very different place than most non-laity in what I think is important, which is connecting spiritually with other folks on this journey to get to know God in this world. Or maybe it’s the structure of our concept of church that lies at the heart of the problem. I don’t know, but the laity are a totally different matter. They’re essential to my quest, with their open, seeking, acting, and accepting demeanor—plus, they aren’t sticklers about using language prescribed by a creed old as dirt.

At least that’s what I think today.

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Comments (2)

  • Ellen Morris Prewitt

    I think most of what I find frustrating is brought about by what the church asks of the ordained, which I think makes it hard to open up, and talking about your personal experience of God is definitely opening up.

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