It's the quintessential January early Sunday morning in Seattle. Mostly dark still (at 7:30 am), fairly cold but not raining (and as any true Seattlite will tell you, a day or hour in January without rain is like a day with sunshine!) . I'm staying in a funky 1930's nursing home turned inn at the foot of Queen Ann hill, the highest hill in Seattle, and also at the foot of the Space Needle which, graceful and glowing, is the first thing that strikes your eye as you leave the place. The Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World's Fair, is across the street and the theatre district is here as well.
My sisters are still sleeping and I'm in a local coffee shop which attempts to look vaguely 30's-40's and might succeed except for the soft folk rock playing, the dozen varieties of coffee drinks, computers, wi-fi, and the piles of neighborhood and alternate newspapers. A soft granola exterior with a super-charged, hard-edged 21st century underbelly. That too is very Seattle.
As is the fact that the "what to do in Seattle" magazine that came with our room ends with an essay about how Seattle is the heart of "None Land." Meaning that 60% of Seattle denizens, when asked what religious tradition they identify with, reply "None". You know that such practical agnosticism is far gone when it is acknowledged in a publication for tourists. (I think I saw the author, who sports long, wildly curling grey hair, and looks like a survivor of the 60's playing live music down at the Pike Place Market yesterday)
The author of the article raised the obvious questions: how do we, as a community, then wrestle with issues of morality and values - (much less "good" and "evil" but those terms are largely regarded as dangerous nonsense categories here in the heart of post-modernism. The spectre of someone asserting universal moral truths can rouse Seattlites faster than a triple grande carmel macchiato.)
So how do we, as Catholic disciples of Jesus Christ live among, love, serve, evangelize in one of the toughest spiritual environments? I don't pretend to have the answers. But I do know that the inviting others to speak of their "lived" experience or relationship with God (as opposed to their theological, ideological, or political views about God and religion) is an important beginning place in our cultural situation.
We saw it again while giving a heavily abridged version of Making Disciples at the OP conference last week. People - including priests - were so moved, blessed, healed, challenged, and evangelized by the simple experience of telling or listening to the story of another person's lived relationship with God. That's why we are still reading Augustine's Confessions so many centuries later. That's why Therese's Story of a Soul" still nourishes us. They were saints and spiritual geniuses, yes - but it is their story of living with and for God in the midst of their specific time and place that arrests our attention and speaks to our hearts.
And because we are all in a relationship with God even when we refuse to acknowledge it (since He, the great Lover, holds us in being every second) and we were created for that relationship, this resolutely "None" religious agnosticism is contrary to who we are. And not just in grand, philosophical categories, but in the mundane details of our lives. We can't actually live our lives consistently as post-moderns. We can't live as though good and evil are meaningless, as though we don't long for more.
And when we tell the story of our personal, lived journey, that tension between our heart and soul and what our culture tells us we should desire and feel wells to the surface. Even in our pain, despair, bitterness, or atheism. Which is the first step. Not the final step. Not the end. Just the beginning. But a critical beginning for post-moderns who live in a mental, imaginative, and experiential universe so far from that of seriously practicing Catholics.
We can't build a culture of discipleship on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis. We can't evangelize our own generation without relating to them as valued persons, building relationships of trust, and inviting them to look again at and share their spiritual journey to this point in their life.
One response to citizens of the Land of "None" - wherever they happen to hang their hats?
How about asking "What has been your experience of God to this point in your life?"
And then really listening. And praying.
Must stop here. I'm being blinded by an unfamiliar light that has momentarily broken through the clouds and found me at my battered little wooden table tucked far inside the coffee shop. So does the Holy Spirit seek us all out and find us and woo us- even in "None" land.
I know that I must change many of my own habits of inattention, obliviousness, self-protection, and spiritual self-absorption to recognize, much less actively accompany others whom God is seeking out. But I'm praying that God will change me and somehow, use me in this delicate and subtle ministry.