A Dialogue with Kevin
Recently, while on vacation I spent an evening with friends from years past. I am an Episcopal priest who is still active as a Rector of a small parish. This past January I turned 70, and I began to reflect on my past, present and future. A good part of this reflection was about the continuing journey of my priesthood.
I began my priesthood as a Roman Catholic priest in Canada, but for many reasons I left. I became an Episcopal priest and married.Turning seventy I realized the meaning of T.S. Elliot's insight that we always return to where we began. I wanted to return to Canada and spend time with family and old friends. These friends were laity with whom I have maintained a loving friendship over the years
There was a couple Ross and Barb that I particularly wanted to see. They have remained close even though I left Rome. They are a sincere and serious Catholic marriage with seven adult children and a number of grandchildren. They have dedicated their marriage to the creation of a Catholic home. They are highly educated and progressive Catholics, yet deeply rooted in Catholic piety.
I was invited to a family birthday, and I met the children who I had held as infants. A great gift was given to me that night. Ross and Barb told me that they were happy I was an Episcopal priest, and we prayed and cried. They then mentioned that their children had little, if any, interest in the Catholic Church.
I began to speak with their son Kevin about the issue, I was disturbed because I knew the profound faith and spirituality of this home. I spoke especially with Kevin because I was extremely perplexed by his rejection of the Church. Kevin has a truly mystical character and a courageous love for humanity. For example, this past two years he has gone on three occasions to Somalia with Doctors Without Borders. In point of fact, he was in such a dangerous location that the UN forces would pick him up by helicopter every night and return him the next morning.
I had a long dialogue with Kevin about his complete lack of interest in the Church. He described himself as an atheistic humanist. I was crushed, This is Kevin, and he is the kind and loving healer. He is the one prepared to lay down his life for others. Kevin gave me the common response that the Church is irrelevant and borinng. He is now a man of medicine and science etc. As the dialogue progressed, we came to the real issue. Kevin informed me that he was an atheist. This 32 year healer was a dedicated atheistic humanist.
I attempted to explain the difference between religion and spirituality. I talked to him about a book I have just written on existentialism and spirituality. He was very interested in this conversation then he asked me a most challenging question, "Father, can an atheist be spiritual?" I thought carefully and I answered with a definite, "Yes, an atheist can be spiritual?"
I recommended that he read the work by Robert C. Solomon, Spirituality for the Skeptic. I quoted Solomon's work, "Spirituality, I have come to see, is nothing less than the thoughtful love of life," and said this represented my view to be spiritual is to have a thoughtful love of life.
I have written about this night with Kevin because it is a part of my priestly journey coming into its final days. Kevin's atheism breaks my heart, but I love and respect him. I did not argue with him, rather we entered into a dialogue. But here is the issue! I suggest that Kevin represents the best of our young people today. As Episcopalians, we must understand that we live in a culture of entrenched skepticism, and we must have a new attitude and a new spiritual theology.
Finally, I strongly recommend reading Solomon's work; it is the only really interesting book that I have read on the problem of spirituality in a Postmodern Culture.