I seem to recall a time when the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, aka the Washington National Cathedral, called itself “a house of prayer for all people.” These days they see their calling as “a spiritual home for the nation,” welcoming people of all faiths. This is a good and noble vision, but as the Nones continue to grow, now comprising nearly 1 in 5 Americans, I wonder how it is that the National Cathedral or the Church she represents, can claim a space for those seeking for spirituality without religion.
Certainly, the prophet Isaiah didn’t have Nones in mind when he wrote of the great restoration of all people in the Old Testament lesson appointed for Sunday. Not having faith in something wasn’t really an option until the last 100 years or so. Prior to that, human beings were so dependent upon nature and the God (or gods, depending on one’s faith) that created it, that the risk of not having faith and not taking your part in the religious activities of the era were entirely too great. It is only with the rise of science and the advent of industrialization that human beings are able to, in theory at least, rely on themselves, their own physical and cognitive abilities.
How is it then, in the growing post-religious society (at least in the West), are we called to meet the needs of those who are seeking a relationship with God, or as Isaiah puts it those “who join themselves to the LORD” outside of the traditional structures of laws, prophets, holy writ, and ritual? This is, in some way, the crux of the conversation between Jesus and the Canaanite woman.
Jesus has the role of the tradition in this story, arguing, rather impolitely, “this is the way things are supposed to be done.” In response, the Canaanite woman argues the side of the Nones, suggesting that perhaps there is another way. A better way. I don’t have any answers as to if the Church can meet the needs of the rising Nones, let alone how we might do it, but I do know that the starting place isn’t entrenchment. “This is how we do it,” should not, in fact must not, be our answer. Instead, this week’s Gospel lesson seems to suggest that a certain openness to the other, seeing them not so much as someone to be converted or treated with suspicion, but rather as one who, like every human being ever made, was created to be in relationship with God and is seeking that out, just a way that is very different than my own.
I’m not sure how God is going to create a Kingdom that is a house of prayer for all people. I just know I hope I’m a part of it, and I hope my actions haven’t pissed off those who will likely be standing right beside me on that great and glorious day.