Saturday, January 19, 2013

Secure Attachment And The Church

Fr. Dale Matson

“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.” (Isaiah 1:17)

Secure attachment is the desired outcome for young children. It is a healthy emotional bonding that takes place from 6 months to 2 years of age, between the caregiver(s) and the child. It is also that period of a child’s life where a consistent, loving and secure environment gives the child a sense of trust. There are other less desirable outcomes that can set the child on a troubled life course with interpersonal and intrapersonal difficulties.  So what does attachment theory have to do with the church?

My wife and I recently attended a Goodbye Party for our associate priest. The large gathering consisted of church members mixed with homeless folks. The homeless people attend the Wednesday church service with a meal following the service. Our table, like most tables was a mixture of church members and homeless people.  One of the individuals at our table (I will call her Sarah) is a long time church member who has struggled with episodes of depression for years. Two of the homeless people, a male and female (John and Mary), are Wednesday regulars but not church members. Those three were in their mid-fifties.
Suddenly it struck me how bright eyed and engaging Sarah was compared to John and Mary. Sarah had that same patina I have seen so often on the mature saints of the church. I have seen it in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, in hospitals and even hospice. Qualities that come to mind are empathy, compassion, engagement, vulnerability, joy and hopefulness. Sarah has had a difficult life with frequent family difficulties yet there is a confident swagger in her walk as she approaches the communion rail.

Could it be that those in Christ’s body the church experience secure attachment as members? Does membership provide the consistent loving and predictable environment adults need also? Is the church a possible continuation/replacement for the family of origin? Can members find purpose, meaning and interconnectedness in this community of faith?

What I have experienced in interacting with the homeless folks over the years are characteristics that often include mistrust and detachment. There is a woundedness and hopelessness. While there is occasional laughter, there is rarely a sense of joy. Some even had success early on. They seem to be a defeated people. How can the church help them to see that commitment to Christ and a faith community is a different and better kind of freedom. It is a better freedom than the false freedom of the streets where they are killing themselves on the installment plan.

Sarah and many others in our church have similar stories to those on the streets. What is the difference? Sarah is in Christ and His body the church. She has her church family and we have “her back”. She belongs to a spiritual HMO. She has secure attachment.  Lord give John, Mary and the others the will to commit to You.

“Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.” (Psalm 82:3-5)

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