Suzanne Bossert

Disruptive Transformation

As the poet reminds us, our present moment is not Götterdämmerung … an utter collapse of society … but rather, a foray into the fertile unknown, which is a favorite haunt of Creator energy. Imaginative words give us a lantern to navigate uncertainty,...

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Ours is an uneasy age. Pandemic confusion and isolation, Facebook tribalism, rancorous political divisions and a general distrust of authority are stripping the rivets which have long held our civic life together. Institutions across all sectors are reeling, including organized religion, which has ceded its once unquestioned primacy in mediating community norms. In this current state of destabilization, we might do well to recall the words of John F. Kennedy, who once pointed out that the Chinese word for crisis, wēijī, is composed of two distinct characters, which mean “danger” and “opportunity.” A more precise translation renders wēi as “alarming precariousness,” and as “a crucial point when something new begins.”

What if our current disorientation is not a cataclysmic unraveling but rather, the commencement of a new gilded age of human exploration? Increasingly, large numbers of people are seeking truth and meaning not just within the great world religions but beyond the walls of churches, mosques and temples. These unconventional questers from all walks of life are embarking on profound adventures of the heart, filled with purpose and joyful curiosity. The poet Adrienne Rich captures this sense of journeying through new terrain:

The rules break like a thermometer, quicksilver spills across the charted systems, we’re out in a country that has no language no laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wren through gorges unexplored since dawn whatever we do together is pure invention the maps they gave us were out of date by years… we’re driving through the desert wondering if the water will hold out the hallucinations turn to simple villages the music on the radio comes clear— neither Rosenkavalier nor Götterdämmerung but a woman’s voice singing old songs with new words.”

–Adrienne Rich, “Poem XIII,” from The Dream of a Common Language, 1978

As the poet reminds us, our present moment is not Götterdämmerung … an utter collapse of society … but rather, a foray into the fertile unknown, which is a favorite haunt of Creator energy. Imaginative words give us a lantern to navigate uncertainty, which is why ideas matter most during revolution. Wildhouse Publications was founded for precisely this time because out on pilgrimage roads, we need to understand each other’s stories, and be changed by them. Where are we each seeing the Divine in the wild? Where are we glimpsing the glimmerings of sacred impulse and presence, both in familiar and unexpected contexts?

This is not a zero-sum game. New expressions of spirituality do not need to erase traditional forms of faith in order to thrive, just as science and rational philosophy need not cancel out the possibility of mystical metaphysics. As a Christian, I believe institutionalized religion deserves critique on the way to reformation, not a total dismantling. I am mesmerized by emerging possibilities, but I don’t want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” as we used to say down South; I remain a devoted follower of Jesus. Proclaiming my faith in just this way is intentional—at once an act of defiance and equally a mantra of recovery–because as a gay woman, I have been traumatized by those who perpetuate acts of critique and control in the name of the Christ.

Ironically, it is by claiming allegiance to the original vision of Christianity that I am able to stand in solidarity with people of all faiths and no faith, because the heart of the Jesus canon is a category-breaking insistence upon love over dogma. And despite a notorious reputation to the contrary, the Christian scriptures offer an unmistakable pattern of upending the status quo, as God does new thing upon new thing upon new thing. Wilderness wandering is often a gateway to promised lands, and by his life and death, Jesus himself illustrates that innovation is not anathema to Christianity.

In a world battered by seismic shifts happening at an astounding pace, a multiplicity of spiritual identities should not just be tolerated but sought as essential. A widened collective perspective acts as both anchor and compass as we pursue robust answers to the increasing complexities of modern life.

Disruption is a doorway to creative transformation. This has been the mantra of The Juniper Tree for over a decade, and is a culture/spirituality shift that I will continue to explore in a new adventure: developmental/acquisitions editor at indie press Wildhouse Publications. At WHP, we stand ready to collaboratively midwife purposeful art into the world, so please be in touch with me if you feel a call to write about the Spirit among the margins. A beautiful diversity of voices and perspectives will aid us all in dreaming new ways forward towards enlightenment and flourishing.

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