Scaffolding for the spiritual journey

I often see scaffolding wrapped around buildings. Rigid metal poles bolted together. Planks and ladders providing safe passage from one place of work to another.

Scaffolding is needed for major repairs and maintenance, such as replacing a roof, or painting a tall building. Sometimes, this scaffolding is then plastic-wrapped, to provide privacy, safety, and a weather-proof working environment.

Once work is completed the scaffolding is dismantled. Ladders, cherry pickers, or long poles are then used to effect minor repairs and on-going maintenance.

We are a building – Shekhinah, a temple of God. Well-designed. The intrinsic design and health of my temple will enable it to weather many storms. But it still needs regular upkeep … and sometimes a major overhaul.

How do I maintain the spiritual life of this temple?

There is an infinite variety of ‘scaffolding’ available to us on our spiritual journey. Sacraments. Prayer. Worship. Community. Retreat. Spiritual teaching and reading. Spiritual direction and companionship. The framework provided by different spiritualities, such as Marist, Benedictine, Franciscan, Ignatian. Silence.

Some of this scaffolding is designed for major events … initiation, marriage, ordination, death. It shapes us, moulds us, gifts us with grace … but then we take it down and allow that grace to become visible in our temple.

Sometimes we erect scaffolding and wrap it in plastic, to effect a major change. Entering a time of retreat or discernment, when we become especially attentive to the voice of the divine, is a time when we are particularly vulnerable. We need the protection and privacy that exclusion of the outside world offers. But then we strip away the scaffolding and the protective wrap, and slowly the metamorphosis that has taken place deep within, will become evident in our attitudes, our words, our actions.

There are many tools available to us to effect minor repairs and on-going maintenance. Communal worship and liturgy nourishes and sustains us. Reconciliation and conflict resolution repairs cracks and dents in our relationships with others and with God. A personal prayer discipline, unique to each of us as we seek to relate to the God-within and the God-without. Service to others … being the eyes and ears and feet and heart of God to others. Reflection on sacred scripture. Small group interactions.

Our institutional churches are also temples – literally and metaphorically. Well designed. Intrinsically good. But the scaffolding has been up for many years – and I wonder why it has not been taken down. Scaffolding in the guise of  Vatican 2 enabled major renovations within the Catholic Church – a major transformation. But not only is this scaffolding being dismantled, many of the renovations have also been removed. A little counter-productive.

I wonder if ancient, ineffectual scaffolding is shoring up a crumbling edifice. Perhaps it is time for this scaffolding to be removed, and demolition experts invited in to remove all that is rotten. This is not a time for plastic-wrapping: everything must be done in plain view, open to inspection and inspiration.

Scaffolding is always a sign of hope; of new beginnings; of creativity and hard work; of attentiveness to what has been done, what needs to be done, and what needs to be protected. Scaffolding is always unique. It is shaped to the building and to the work that must be undertaken. Scaffolding can be used again and again but each time it will be different and will enable different work to be done. While scaffolding is designed to facilitate construction work and repairs, its primary purpose is ALWAYS the health and safety of those who use it.

Can we say that the scaffolding we use in our spiritual life is healthy – for us and for those who encounter us?

Can we say that the scaffolding our churches use is healthy – and considers first those who dwell within and those who are passers-by?

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