In my previous post, What I Believe, I attempted to put down into words the foundation and a passable summary of what it is I believe. I may write further posts on it as I continue to define and refine it, but I hope that it is a good starting point as the basis for future spiritual posts, like this one.
An idea I’ve come to encounter more and more is “spiritual but not religious”, especially as we come into contact with many different beliefs both through our relationships and the easy availability of information. We question what we believe, and if any religion/spirituality is necessary at all.
Although we may not adhere to a central religion, we all feel the call of deeper meaning, the meaning of life (the universe, and everything). Why are we here? How did we come to be? What do I want to accomplish with my life? What happens we I die? We all yearn and search for meaning and understanding. This quest can be lived out in a multitude of ways, and lead down both religious/spiritual as well as scientific paths (two major streams that by no means have to diverge).
Buddhism teaches us that we are spirit and flesh woven together, and that our spiritual essence is tied to the mundane, so we must live in both worlds simultaneously. The teaching is that in this world the body reigns, but this world is only one stepping stone in the path to enlightenment, and ahead are further worlds where the spirit is given more prominence, as the needs of the body recede.
I find this explanation very appealing, in that, we are all spirits, though it is hard often to know it in this hard, painful world. Often we question if we have a spirit/soul at all, or if we are nothing more than a body that will one day die, and return to absolute nothingness.
How does religion fit into this? Religious dogma and traditions can be comforting in their continuity and persistent regularity. Religion grounds us where we are, but may hinder us from hearing the truth of the spirit.
What can Christians take away from this?
Can we break free from religion to embrace the raw spirituality of the Gospel? Can we? Should we? Can we find a balance?
I believe everything about human nature and history points to the fact that we are a curious, inquistive and searching species. Human endeavour continues to search and question the nature of our world and of ourselves, each giving further insight into the other while often triggering still more questions in the process.
Everyone understands our reality, our own selves and the nature of our being here differently. Perhaps most destructive is anything that makes us complacent in ourselves and our nature, and seeks to dull our thirst for discovery.
However, I don’t believe we should abandon our religious traditions and ceremonies, as they are part of our culture and who we are. I would instead suggest we examine ourselves as we go through familiar traditions, and attempt to enter them with a fresh mind and heart, remembering what it was like to partake in them for the first time. I also think we should embrace other traditions, learn what they mean to others, and consider how they inform our own experiences.
Last week, as we entered Lent, I took part in the Imposition of Ashes, a tradition held in many church denominations but unfamiliar to me. It was extremely powerful, the ash in the shape of the cross pressed to my forehead a reminder of from whence we came and to what we will return. I hope that if I continue this tradition, I can return to it with the same openness as this time.
We crave comfort and familiarity, but I pray that we will not become complacent in our lives or our faith. I believe God wants us to enter our reading and interpreting of the Bible with a likewise open and discerning mind.
I believe the Bible shows us a God that intended us as we are: inquisitive and relational with ourselves, each other, our world, and Himself.
The author Brian D. McLaren talks about “God A” vs. “God B” in his book “A Generous Orthodoxy”, describing the spiritual and philisophical change from the Old Testament to the Gospel. He describes “God A” as “a single, solitary, dominant Power, Mind, or Will”, while God B is “a unified, eternal, mysterious, rational community/family/society/entity of saving Love”. He continues:
“Think of the kind of universe you would expect if God A created it: a universe of dominance, control, limitation, submission, uniformity, coercion. Think of the kind of universe you would expect if God B created it: a universe of interdependence, relationship, possibility, responsibility, becoming, novelty, mutuality, freedom. I’m not sure what comes first – the kind of universe you see or the kind of God you believe in, but as a Christian who believes in Jesus as the Son of God, I find myself in universe B, getting to know God B.
This is why, for starters, I am a Christian: the image of God conveyed by Jesus as the Son of God, and the image of the universe that resonates with this image of God best fit my deepest experience, best resonate with my deepest intuition, best inspire my deepest hope, and best challenge me to live with what my friend, the late Mike Yaconelli, called “dangerous wonder,” which is the starting point for a generous orthodoxy.”
How amazing is the philisophy? And how different from many of the churches we’ve been to, and continue to see today? To me this is a challenge to how we meet with God, how we view our world and how we reflect on ourselves. It also challenges us to see how we do church very differently. I pray that we may always search and question, and find wonder all around us.
Father God, may we not become complacent in our belief, and mouth words we think may be pleasing to You but without our hearts. May we enter each day, each moment, with a thirst to understand you better, and to better be your hands and feet in this world. May we nurture our soul as well as our bodies, and be a better example of you. In Christ’s name, Amen.
Next post: Be the light