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Collective identity is the root cause of so much that is, and has always been, ugly, petty, foolish and even soul-killing about organized religion: the tribalism, the judgments, the us-versus-them jockeying for position, the holier-than-thou attitudes, the fetishizing of local liturgical practices (“We do it this way but they don’t!”), and all the rest. These things have contributed significantly to the radical reduction in the numbers of churchgoers nationwide in recent decades; to say that they do more harm than good is an understatement. Continue reading

Thin places

We all know that God is everywhere, all around and inside of us, at all times and in all places. No need to board a plane or a train to find him, no need to hike until our feet ache.

Places of pilgrimage are not where we find God; they are places where we believe that we can more easily perceive him. And we believe we are able to perceive him more easily in certain places precisely because others before us have done so.

Pilgrimage sites are the fabled “thin places” of Celtic spirituality, places where, as the oft-quoted Eliot says, “prayer has been valid.” The sheer metaphysical force of the faith of others, both seen and unseen, both present and past, both known and unknown, compels us to give ourselves over to adoration and veneration and contemplation in ways that would not be possible at home.

We go to these places because others have gone to these places; we believe because they believed; we pray there because they prayed there.

— Christopher Rivers, Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, Conn.; St. Mark’s, Charleston, S.C.