Print
Diarmuid O'Murchu

 

What is Adult Faith Development ?

(This is a brief overview of the wisdom for empowerment that I seek to communicate in all my work and writings. Like all adult learning this is an interactive process on which I always welcome feedback).

 

“No anthropology can yet be written because humanity is not yet human.” Walter Wink.

                                                           Introduction

All religions and churches emphasise that humans are:

-weak and sinful while God is strong and holy
-totally dependent on the all-providing God,
-servants of God to whom we owe absolute allegiance,
-children of a Father God and a Mother Church
-called to be humble and obedient to the parent-like divine power.

The metaphor of the child is extensively used in conventional spirituality. Phrases like “childlike trust,” “loyalty,” “obedience,” “under authority” all denote a sense of dependency that is not congruent with adult maturity. The tendency to structure religion in patriarchal-type institutions, with a strong focus on those who govern from on high, breeds co-dependency rather than mutual interdependence. Such metaphors and systems militate against the emergence of wholesome, adult people.

Much more serious and less obvious to the naïve observer, is the tendency of religions to alienate people from the planetary and cosmic web of life. The dualism of the sacred v. the secular truncates nature’s invitation to live in a convivial, cooperative relationship with the earth and its living systems. Properly understood, earth-life systems function best when humans treat other life-forms with a sense of adult care and responsibility. But this experience of being human, in an integrated planetary and cosmic way, is largely unknown to people of our time

THE CONTEXT

Adult Faith Development wishes to reclaim our integral place in creation:

- There is a cosmic dimension to our lives, elegantly illustrated in the fact that
stardust is essential to our existence and all sources of nourishment ultimately belong to sunlight.

- There is a planetary/earthly dimension: our very existence is dependent on the
healthy functioning of the earth’s bio-systems.

- There is an organic dimension, highlighted in the bacterial foundations of all life, thriving primarily on cooperation, not via competition.

- Our own human existence belongs to an amazing creative story of some 7,000,000 years, often dismissed by academics as primitive and barbaric.

- Contextually, we are an integral part of a greater whole that confers on us our integrity and dignity, forever calling us to mutual engagement with the evolving life-forces of cosmic and planetary life. Because of our disconnection from the larger context, we end up condemning ourselves to a contrived, minimalistic, childish participation in the great enterprise of universal life.

 

AT HOME IN CREATION

Creation is our true, authentic home, the houshold of all life, including those who have gone before us. The afterlife does not exist outside creation, but within it, a realm in which our departed loved ones inhabit a different level of being  - within the one cosmos.


Religion’s negative regard for the created order is responsible for much of the meaningless suffering in the contemporary world. Because this suffering is often so overwhelming, many people throw themselves at the mercy of God. Although an understandable response, and often the basis of survival against heavy odds, this is an abdication of our call to be co-creators with God in enhancing the growth and development of God’s creation.

RECLAIMING ADULT FAITH

Faith in our time requires us to grow up and learn to relate with God in a new way. As co-creators with our creative God, we are invited and challenged to relate as adults to an adult God, modelled for Christians in the adult life-example of Jesus. This requires that we replace:


-
The patriarchal sky-God with the divine life-force we encounter in the miracle of God’s creation.

- Hierarchical top-down dependency with a sense of mjutual eqaulity and interdependence.

- Power-over with power-with (empowerment).

-Parental-type, controlling relationships with those based on mutuality (as modelled in the Trinity).

-A product mentality in which everything is essentially predetermined with a process outlook that respects the divinely inspired evolutionary nature of life.

- Faith communities where the focus tends to be on control and top-down governance (priest, imam, rabbi), to one centred on people and programmed for mutual empowerment.

PRINCIPLES OF ADULT FAITH DEVELOPMENT:

In contemporary cultures – secular and religious – calling forth the adult is either construed as a non-issue because, allegedly, adulthood is already fostered and protected, or it is subverted as dangerous propaganda. For the religions, in particular, it is quite a new concept with consequences that are likely to be perceived as threatening and dangerous for the status quo. In promoting a culture of adult faith the following principles are crucial:

1.Faith is a process of life-long learning, not some magical, divine product bestowed by church or religion.

2.Grace builds on nature (St. Anslem; St. Thomas Aquinas); consequently, appropriation of faith at different life-stages needs informed attention (see the pioneering work of James Fowler).

3.Adults learn by doing in a dynamic, interactive and co-operative endeavour in which educator and learner are equal partners.

4.In adult learning, everybody is endowed with wisdom and all are beneficiaries of divine revelation. Both educator and learner have joint responsibility for the awakening and appropriation of faith.

5.Story-telling is a central strategy in articulating a meaningful faith. Discernment skills arise from this context.

6.Adult faith matures when life experience is honoured, and the ensuing challenges are explored through mature adult conversations (stories).

7.Adult faith tends not to be incapacitated by perfectionism. It is much more at home in soulful realism in which paradox is honoured , vulnerability is protected, questions are respected and dogmatism gives way to trust and dialogue.

8.Adults commit to faith-based structures in which power is shared equally and justly at the service of empowerment.

9.Adults desire transparency through open dialogue, pursuing truth that is always in the process of being realised.

10. Adults seek to change co-dependent metaphors, images and language into more imaginative and intuitive constructs that challenge people to act as adults, faithful to an adult God, modelled on the adult life-example of Jesus.

 

***************************************************************************

 

Revitalizing Eucharist in terms of Adult Faith

 

During the lockdown of Covid 19, in many parts of the Christian world, people could only access Eucharist virtually, which meant praying along with the priest celebrating Eucharist on his own. I suspect in years to come theologians will raise serious reservations on the sacramental integrity of this practice. It supports co-dependent devotionalism rather than authentic spiritual empowerment. 

Ideally, Eucharist should always be celebrated communally, with people gathered in our full embodied incarnational truth. Where people are gathering virtually, I am proposing an Agape celebration rather than Eucharist in the fuller sense. In the Agape version all the key elements can still be honoured, experienced, and celebrated. However, if possible, have at least one other person with you (honouring social distancing, etc.). And if you are on your own keep in mind all the others joining in the virtual celebration.

This is the Agape version I use. Feel free to adopt it as you deem necessary. I have a set of accompanying images (powerpoint) to enrich the experience. I am happy to send them to you as an EMail attachment. 

 

A G A P E at the Family Table 

Short Introduction for all participants.

This time of lockdown provides a significant moment for reclaiming the very foundations upon which our understanding of Eucharist is based. It all began at the family table, as the early Christians adopted the model of the Jewish Shabat meal as the context for celebrating Eucharist. However, the Christians opened up a new horizon, making the meal inclusive of all outsiders, and not merely reserved to those claiming Jewish-Christian fellowship. Hospitality, Inclusivity, and Empowerment are three key concepts, exemplified in the many meals that Jesus shared with his followers in his life time, of which the Last Supper was merely one. 

      Thus a Canadian theologian, Robert C. Wild, has written: The Eucharist can no longer be seen as the commemoration of Jesus’ sacrificial death for the salvation of the world. Rather, we must look for the central meaning of the Eucharist in Jesus’ own apparent joy in sharing meals with people of the Galilean countryside. The open table of Jesus public life challenged the discriminatory social code of honor and shame which denied the Jewish peasantry the right to share meals with members of other social classes. By embracing an open table, Jesus taught a seminal truth of the Reign of God: all people are to be included as equals in the community of God’s people. The Eucharist can mean no less for us today.     

The American Scripture Scholar John Dominic Crossan adds: The Common Meal tradition may look to a Last Supper in the past, to a communal meal in the present, or to a messianic banquet in the future. . . . but it can never get away from this: it is in food and drink offered equally to everyone that the presence of God and Jesus is found.  So the Lord’s supper is political criticism and economic challenge as well as sacred rite and liturgical worship. Christians claim that God and Jesus are peculiarly and especially present when food and drink are shared equally among all.                                                                       

Scholars suggest that Jesus adopted two popular models for his table fellowship: the friendship meal and the banquet. The friendship meal is the more informal setting of the family home, where people eat in a more relaxed way without being overly preoccupied with public etiquette. The Last Supper, it is now believed, probably was a friendship meal rather than a formal Passover one.  

Today, we are invited to a celebration of Eucharist, using the structure of the AGAPE (literally means: Love Feast), using the gifts of daily food upon which we will invoke a special blessing in the name of God’s Holy Spirit. This invocation is known as the Epiclesis (in Latin), long considered to be the heart and soul of every celebration of Eucharist, despite the fact that, throughout most of Christian history,  it has been extensively displaced and overshadowed by the special power of the priest.  

Theologically, the invocation of the Holy Spirit is meant to be done by the entire body of the gathered people with the priest acting as a facilitator, whether present or participating from a distance. In this context, the primary sacramental responsibility belongs to the people, and not to the priest. Therefore, let us consciously, creatively, and proactively, embrace this moment, which is not a heretical departure from the approved liturgy of the Church, but rather a sincere, discerning attempt to reclaim and re-enact the foundational experience of Eucharist, which got lost over the centuries. The main elements of this celebration are outlined herewith. 

Whenever possible make this a group (communal) experience, rather than being on your own. You will need a candle, some bread and a drink (which can be wine or fruit juice). And if possible use your family table, as every Eucharist invites us to give thanks to God for the wonderful gift of food which nourishes and sustains us each day.

 

  1. GATHERING in Song (Air: The Wind in the Willows):

Come people in worship at table recline,
Come sing out our praises in scripture and rhyme.
Our table is open, inclusive for all,
As we celebrate Eucharist, our faith we recall.

As the sun shines upon us enriching our earth,
And the fruits of the seasons rejoicing the heart. 
We bring to this table – gifts of bread and wine
 To share on our journey with all humankind.

 

  1. Light your Candle(s), as we invoke the light and wisdom of God:

    a) To receive the wisdom of God’s Word (A Reading from Scripture).
    b) To open our hearts so the Word informs our daily lives.
    c) To ready us to give sincere praise and thanks to God.

  2. Laying Our Table.
    We bring the gifts of bread and wine to the table, along with any other symbols of
    of our gratitude and joy that we wish to bring. (A really good moment to involve Children). When the table is laid we all sing together.

 In setting our table we recall many ways
 We’ve been nourished and fed for the length of our days.
Creation’s own table in abundant regard
Reminds us that God’s love is vividly shared.
As the sun shines upon us, etc. 
 

  1. Offertory

  The Bread, Wine, and other gifts are held aloft (again, let’s include children), as we sing:

With great thanks we offer what we have received,
The bread of the harvest from nature’s own fields.
And the wine that is crushed from the grape of the vine,
God’s gifts are poured out all abundant in kind.
As the sun shines upon us, etc.

        5. Invocation of the Holy Spirit 

The following prayer (of Epiclesis) is said by all,
and we pause for a brief moment after each verse:


We gather here in the power of the Holy Spirit, 
source and well-spring of all that energizes and enriches creation. 
United in the empowerment of that One Spirit 
we give thanks for all that nourishes and sustains us.

Invoking as One Body: Link hands around the table (if appropriate).
If you are on your own, consciously connect in spirit with all the other participants.


May that Spirit come upon us afresh, 
to awaken within and among us, 
the transformative power of holy energy; 
may our hearts be renewed and our spirits reawakened.

Everybody is invited to extend their hands over the gifts on the table
(as the priest does in the Mass).

We acknowledge in these gifts of bread and wine
that same creative energy,
which in the transformative power of this Eucharist, 
will become for us the food and drink of life eternal.
AMEN.

  1. Invitation – come and share in the banquet of our God
    Let one or two persons (incl. children) hold aloft the bread
    and the cup, as all sing:

We proclaim the feast open to all who believe.
Come share in this banquet, come now and receive.
And know in the heart that is hungry for more
That God’s love is with you wherever you go.
As the sun shines upon us, etc.
 

  1. Sharing our Eucharistic Meal

All receive  - first of the bread – and then of the cup,
(after which we sit quietly for a few moments of silent gratitude).
 

  1. The Lord’s Prayer (based on the original Aramaic).
    Source: John Dominc Cross, The Greatest Prayer.
     

             O Cosmic Householder, Source of our wisdom, protector and provider, 
            embracing all that dwells in the Heavens, naming all for holiness and justice, 
            in the Companionship of Empowerment, spread throughout the entire creation,
            as willed by Holy Wisdom. 
            In justice, may all be sustained by daily food, and relieved of the burden of crippling debts.             
            Lead us not into collusion with any type of violence, 
and deliver us from all forms of violent oppression.    
            For yours is the empowering desire to radiate on earth the non-violent justice of enduring hope. 
 

  1. Song of Thanksgiving 

In the power of the Spirit, we’ve gathered this day
to celebrate Eucharist, to worship and pray.
The food of creation in our souls’ inner being
is nourished in hope as we gratefully sing:
       As the sun shines upon us enriching our earth, 
       And the fruits of the seasons rejoicing the heart. 
      We take from this table, gifts of bread and wine
      To share on our journey with all humankind.

 May blessings abundant sustain us ahead 
In the justice we seek that all may be fed. 
To open our table as the hungry implore 
For love and inclusion - in creations great store. 
       As the sun shines upon us enriching our earth, 
       And the fruits of the seasons rejoicing the heart 
       We take from this table, gifts of bread and wine 
       To share on our journey with all humankind.
 

  1. Sign of Peace. Shared by all present in whatever manner feels appropriate.
    Individual participants may wish to extend peace from the heart to some troubled person or situation that comes to mind.