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Winter Books

Religion dying as spiritual hunger grows


By Diarmuid O’Murchu
Crossroad, 197 pages, $15.95 paper
To order: 1-800-462-6420


Diarmuid O’Murchu tells stories of people’s spiritual hunger and how they search for resolution. He takes us beyond our narrow boundaries of religious rules, leading us to the expanded horizons of a trans-patriarchial spirituality (he prefers the word trans to post). He writes: “We yearn to reclaim the deep, primal sacred story of our evolving universe; of planet Earth as our cosmic home; in the diverse and magnificent array of life-forms around us; in the largely untold story of the evolution of spiritual consciousness within humanity itself and, finally, in the contemporary desire to create a one-world family characterized by love, justice, peace and liberation.”

O’Murchu, a member of the Sacred Heart Missionaries, is obviously influenced by Celtic spirituality. A counselor and social psychologist, he has his fingers on the pulse of the church and world today. Religion is dying in the midst of great spiritual hunger.

I found this book to be a good example of the paradigm shift going on today, a transformation from religion to spirituality. The author shows how spirituality, especially thanks to feminism and liberation theology, is being reclaimed for the good of all, including mother Earth, which is being ravaged and killed by the attitude that dominator man is in control.

O’Murchu prophetically announces that sexuality is the erotic power of spirituality. However, he comes out of a Jungian background and speaks of complimentarity between the sexes rather than mutuality. Objecting to dualism, he falls into the either/or trap himself, contrasting the “earthly king’s way [I would have said the institutional church’s way] with the way suggested by Jesus.” But it is refreshing to see the contrasts listed: power from on high versus power from the center, for example, or rule by law when Jesus calls us to relate by value. Also influenced by feminist scholars such as Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, O’Murchu delights that the basileia (royalty) of the kin(g)dom of God is now being reclaimed.

I asked Michele Stimac, a professor at Pepperdine University, why she had recommended this book. We are both on the Loretto Community’s Disarmament and Economic Conversion Committee. Her answer: “He has sound vision and through it astutely warns humankind that we are on the way to extinction as a species if we do not change our ethnocentric and patriarchal mindset.”

I went to amazon.com to see the reviews and received a shock: two reviews, both negative. One accused O’Murchu of baiting the Vatican to censure him. The other bashed the book as trivial, dreary and almost fundamentalist in predicting the end-time of civilization as we know it. This suggests we should write our own on-line reviews and not leave reviewing to those who see the world through narrow patriarchal lenses.

“The primary task of spirituality,” writes O’Murchu, “is to enable and empower people to reclaim the fundamental raison d’être of all religion: the engagement with, and practical living out of, those deep values which alone can assuage the spiritual hunger in the heart of every human being.”

Holistic living, reawakening the power of ritual in key moments of our lives, and rediscovering ritual space are some ways of grounding our vision for the future. An example would be Women-Church feminist liturgies and rituals that are helping some of us reclaim spirituality. But the author cautions that they are still too much underground and unable to be found by those in search of them.

With threats of excommunication by a bishop in California and condemnation by Cardinal Law of Boston, it is no wonder many in Women-Church feel the need to be below the surface, especially innovators who depend on the institutional church for their jobs.

This is one book I do not want to lend to someone and then forget who has it. Twice I lost Reclaiming Spirituality to borrowers who assumed I had finished reading it. But read this book and be filled with hope where there is no hope.

Ruth McDonough Fitzpatrick is a freelance writer living in Fairfax, Va.

National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 1999