The spirituality of blood on the floor

A bunch of blokes were gathered in a holy huddle at the back of a cathedral, worried that no one seemed to be listening to their good news anymore.

Par for the course now but this was Paris during the Second World War. A world in turmoil meant people were thinking for themselves, taking up with new liberation movements and deciding not to come to church.

Like any church facing hard times, good ideas were fallen upon with enthusiasm.   So when news of a priest grafting alongside the dockworkers in Marseilles hit town, the worker-priest model got legs fast.

Broadly speaking, the idea was that priests and monks were to take the good news of Christ with them as they moved out of religious houses to live and work with the ordinary folk of France.

The inevitable happened. Priests fell in love, got married, joined trade unions, the communist party and all manner of trouble-making groups. In short, the communities they had become part of transformed them.

What’s more, the official good news seemed superfluous. The light already existed in the people they thought they’d come to help. As though Christ had sneaked in with no permission from the church and strangely enough, didn’t realise Christianity owned him.

This is exactly my experience as a hospital chaplain. God, the Divine, the Light, the Christos, however you language this underpinning of human existence, this presence, it exists in the most basic of human interactions.

Spiritual presence that becomes apparent in offerings like cleaning up folk who can’t control their bowels, in wiping blood off the floor, in carting equipment, in attending to birthing and dying, and sometimes even in arguments about budgets. It lives without fanfare, often without words and definitely without adherence to any particular faith tradition.

Get too close to those everyday actions in an effort to describe their interconnectedness and you will be blinded by their ordinary functionality, and appear ridiculous in your quest for understanding. Spirituality is a shy beast, tentative but passionate.

Being near, like the worker-priests were, offering space and acceptance, pointing to the ancient spiritual traditions without expecting belief or commitment is enough, but not always for the authorities. By the 1950’s worker-priests were considered to be out of control and the project was stopped.

There’s always tension around spirituality and organizations because Spirit is about liminality, walking the thin places where the Divine is sensed and known. Ways of being that are at odds with institutional creeds and mission statements.

Church or health organizations can offer an environment that encourages this fragile mysticism in motion, or exert controls that push it under.

To suppress it maintains the fiction that being religious has to be about belief instead of awakening to what lies deep within.


Sande Ramage is an Anglican priest and blogger.

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