Since I am one of the biggest offenders — someone who often uses clichés as he expresses himself spiritually, a letter of critique to myself:
I’d like to address, today, the use of clichés within spirituality — particularly Christian Spirituality (since you are in such a community and tradition). If clichés make us less human, what about clichés within Christian Spirituality? How do they rob us of understanding and relationship? And you know, Gabe, quite well how clichés fill your spiritual world and language.
When you pray, why do you ask God do just do something? He is the God of the universe, and you want Him to “just” do something? Why do you ask God to be with people — He is present everywhere, and the final promise of Jesus in Matthew is that God is with people. Is that the best the God of the universe can do — just be with somebody?
What do you mean when you want God to bless someone? To make them happy? To make them content? To give them scads of money? Why don’t you ask for that, rather than a word that you never really think about. What does bless mean? And really, most of your friends are quite blessed: they have cars — which 90% of the world doesn’t — and good homes and jobs and you as a friend (who could beat that?).
How about the Lord’s will? Can’t you argue that, in some way, everything that has ever happened is the will of God? When you say, “your will, Lord” is that an out, an escape if things don’t happen the way you want? Can things happen against God’s will?
Or calling — what is a calling? A passion lived out? Desire? Your passions worked out in prayer and relationship with others? Doesn’t a calling end up being whatever you happen to be doing?
Beyond these words are other words that, really, have become so loaded in society that it is misinforming to use them: born again (conservative, southern), the lost (people who don’t belong), saved (see appropriately titled movie), conversion (that’s the best you can do for radically re-orienting your life?), even Christian (*shudder*).
You see, Gabe, these words don’t adequately communicate what you want to communicate. Words like “be with us” fail to capture the actual profound God-of-the-Universe-in-relationship-with-you reality that happens during prayer (and, not during prayer). Words like “bless” generally don’t communicate what you actually mean, and are sort of watered-down happy-feelings that you want to send to someone else. Can’t God do a lot more than send happy feelings? And words that are loaded simply divide and push away people who need God’s love the most, because they have rarely felt it. Would you tell a friend he is lost? Then why do it behind his back?
Gabe, you don’t really pray all that much (despite the fact Paul said you should pray unceasingly … but that’s another issue). When you talk to a God bigger than you can imagine, stronger and more loving than your mind can grasp, is this the best you can do? You drop into a certain lingo of happy feelings and temporary hopefulness? Or, do you want God to re-orient your life and the lives’ of those around you, radically offering love in profound ways, grace in scandalous ways, and help from a Helper Spirit, not a simply a happy spirit? By falling into clichés, you lessen your expectations of God — and thus your understanding of God — and paint yourself as a caricature, unable to express yourself uniquely to The God.
I’ll stop there. May this be the beginning of breaking through your language, not trapping yourself or other people or your expectations of God in clichéd and trite language. Rather, may you unblushingly approach God in prayer and lovingly re-define Christian Spirituality to those unreconciled to God and turned off by the insider language of the church.
P.S. C.S. Lewis wrote, in his essay Weight of Glory, “if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.” Sometimes your language — the way you express yourself — weakens your desires.
Tomorrow: Wait! Isn’t some of that language in the Bible?