Freeing the theological Cat

This morning, at the lovely Tea at Hart tea shop in Hartlepool, I began reading for the two year MA which i have just started at St John’s College, Durham. In the study guide on theological refection there is the following story;

“When the guru sat down to worship each evening, the ashram cat would get in the way and distract the worshippers. So he ordered that the cat be tied during evening worship. 

Long after the guru died the cat continued to be tied during the evening worship. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought the ashram so that it could duly be tied up during evening worship. Centuries later, learned treatises were written by the guru’s disciples on the essential role of a cat in all properly conducted worship” ( De Mello 1983)

Maybe this resonated with me due to my own prejudice against cats, and that centuries of cats havent fared well in this place of worship. It reminded me of a different story that id heard in the mid 1990’s, a story that takes place in the furore of the various outpourings of the Spirit across mostly the western world. As a confession piece, i have read some of John Wimbers work on Healings, the Spirit etc, dont judge me, but i did grow up evangelical, this was part of the so called renewal movement at the time. However, Johns  Wimbers Vineyard church was regularly visited by people from other western countries, to return with the movement/blessing back to say the UK. (when writing this it seems so so odd, wrong and difficult to explain some 25 years on…) – his church would regularly pray by the laying on of hands, very physically. But because the building that the church congregation was so hot, the laying on of hands became v uncomfortable, sweaty and quite unpleasant, so they encouraged the practice of laying on of hands, but to remain about an inch away from the persons body, and still pray. This is according to his Wimbers own words in ‘Power Healing’. However, the first time i saw this ‘laying on of hands but an inch away from the actual body’ type move, it was said that this was a new way to generate more of the Spirit, and cause Spirit sparks between the two people.

I’m reminded of this, with the Gurus cat story, not to single out the charismatic church in any way, but to highlight in a more recent situation the reflection needed on practice, on routines, on traditions, and what caused them to start, and remain, from essential contextual practice to become theologically (and universally) reasoned.

Before suggesting that youth work or ministry might have Gurus cats lurking in its dark corners, I’ve spent the rest of today thinking about my own practice of detached youthwork, of supervising youthworkers, of managing an organisation, of diligence in work and thinking about the possibilities – even in something as unplannable as detached of upholding contextual traditions and maybe not being aware of them. I guess in detached, in an area it can be easy to use similar routes around an estate,  to try and have easy conversations with young people, to make similar interpretations of the culture, of values or community beliefs. I might, and often refer to my previous experiences with the volunteers. Maybe fortunately I wasn’t exposed to detached youthwork as a young person, and so there is not a reference point to copy/model or shape things – which might not be the case in other forms of work with young people, the young people who lived through 1990’s youth ministry and are youth ministers or Vicars now. The student interns who have only just left ‘being a young person in a church’ themselves. Thats not to say in any way that there arent benefits to recent experience – but like the Cat that gets tied up for generations because it was a necessity once, so might a practice of youthwork been so contextually appropriate to its context and culture, that to try and replicate it might not do justice to the nature, needs and interests of a whole new unique group of young people. The cat in the corner might need to be freed. The times they are changing. The Cat which once was bound by a context of practice can be freed in the universal. Where are, or what might be the theological cats in youth work, mission and ministry? How might they be freed, and who has the power to untie the ropes?


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