11/01/2013 03:27 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Violets Have Broken the Rocks; Underground Faith

Our approaches to spiritualities and theologies are not meant to be fenced-in, barbed-wired, rigidly controlled or tightly enclosed. God is free; so are we. The entire life of Jesus Christ points to inclusivity again and again, embracing the outcast, offering love to one who had been denied it, and placing people above laws. Our task is to be accepting of the yearning for spiritual meaning that is felt in today's world of disruption and agony. Playright Tennessee Williams understood the need of community, belonging, acceptance and love. He wrote in his play "Camino Real" that it would be "inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone."

Blanche's exit line in "A Streetcar Named Desire" -- "I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers" -- is universal for, by and about the spiritual refugees of our age. In my opinion Williams conjured up a vision of hope in this line of incredible transcendence: "The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks." I consider Williams one of God's prophets, a juggler for Christ.

Whenever the church forgets its true role, and becomes tyrannical in judging others' spirituality or self-righteous in celebrating its own sovereignty, it stands in danger of becoming an empty vessel. I had this in mind when I wrote this prayer in my book "Are You Running with Me, Jesus?" "I sometimes withdraw far, far inside myself when I am inside church, but people looking at me can see only my pious expression and imagine I am loving you instead of myself. Save us from the sin of loving religion insead of you."

This yearning is found in spiritual movements of every guise, some inside the church, others outside. Millions of unchurched lesbians and gay men have repudiated "churchianity" because, inside churches, they have encountered dysfunctional religious communities. Too often they are understandably wounded again by past and present victimization. Too often their spiritual needs remain unmet in an era of AIDS, governmental indifference and cultural upheaval. When a church denies God's unconditional love for gay people or "queers," such action denies the Holy Spirit. When a church participates in barring women from ordination to the priesthood, it elevates old prejudice over the stirring of God's always free spirit -- and contributes perhaps unwittingly to a worldwide denigration of women.

"You would narrow your comprehension of the gospel if because you feared to lose your life, you would keep it to yourself," states the Rule of Taize, the French monastic community where I lived and worked in 1954. "If the grain does not die, you cannot hope to see your person open up in the fullness of the Christian life." Old truth. Redeeming truth. Long familiar with it, I had often shied away from its hard illumination. Now I knew in the deepest recesses of my soul I had chosen life with its unpredictable valleys and mountains over the plastic death of security, withdrawal, monochrome rigidity and the refusal to risk.