What is the function of a Church – and by Church I mean not only a local worshiping community, but denominations and other networks or alliances of local faith communities. Stated more directly, my question is, “What is the role of a faith community regarding the spiritual journeys of its members?”
For example, is it right for a faith community to say to its members, “Don’t see this movie, it’s dangerous!”, or “Don’t read this book, it’s dangerous!”? When ever I hear that kind of statement the first thing I do is to go see the movie or buy the book, because I want to find out what all the excitement is about. Usually people don’t want you to go to a movie, read a book, or see a play because of the ideas presented therein. I don’t understand how you can be afraid of an idea, or how and idea can be dangerous – unless you are afraid that the people exposed to the new idea will realize that you have been feeding them a lot of nonsense once they see this new way of looking at things. In fact, you can safely bet that anyone who is trying to get you to avoid being exposed to new ideas is trying to control your thoughts. Since when does a healthy spirituality have anything to do with thought control?
The constant message of Jesus Christ – and, in fact, of every great spiritual teacher – is freedom.Some church types believe that freedom is a problem, because there is no fear in freedom and they believe that if you aren’t afraid you won’t come to worship and put money in the collection plate.Even if that idea did have merit (personally, I suspect people would be much more willing to support a message of freedom and liberation than one of fear) it wouldn’t justify corrupting the message of the system one claims to be living by (freedom) in to a message of fear!
When you examine the writings and speaking of those who hold themselves up as spiritual teachers, watch to see what they are trying to do.If they are Christians and are preaching a message based in the Old Testament Law, recognize that is inappropriate for a people who claim Jesus as the fulfillment of that Law to then attempt to resurrect it. We simply must look to Jesus specifically his life, teachings, and actions – and if he didn’t condemn something then neither should we. The news flash here is that about the only thing Jesus ever did condemn were the religious and civil authorities of his day who tried to oppress others.
Free yourself from externally imposed guilt – and from the internally imposed guilt too, while you are at it. Explore spiritual practices that appeal to you no matter the tradition they come from.Read books, see movies, join “dangerous” mailing lists, stretch yourself, draw closer to the Holy, and do so without fear!
Images of God
This kind of thinking has a lot to do with how we image God.Isn’t it interesting that the words “image” an “imagine” share a common root?
As we expand our thinking and allow ourselves to really honestly engage who and what God is, we are bound to discover a few realities. The first is that God is not, in any physical sense, a person. You cannot introduce God to someone like you would introduce them to your Uncle Fred. The second is that God is that which underlies, sustains, and upholds everything – which means that God is energy, spirit, creativity, art, music, sexuality, and an endless number of other things. THAT means that no matter how we understand or try to talk about that which is the Source of all that is, we are ALL talking about the same thing – and we are all falling short!I don’t care whether you call it God, or Allah, or Jehovah, or understand it in the context of Buddha, or Krishna, or refer to it as the Universe, the
Transcendent, the Holy, the Ultimate, or (even) Fred – you are right…and at the same time we all fall short of describing or understanding Fred completely.
That means that whether we pray, or meditate, or get in touch with our psychic abilities, or use astrology, or use a system of divination, or Reiki, or if we experience astral projection, or hypnosis, or any of a host of other options we all want the same thing and are all looking for it in legitimate ways! We search for that which is beyond and in the context of which we can make sense of our lives.
A good friend of mine sent me a copy of a horoscope reading based on my date of birth, time of birth, and location of birth. I was amazed that the description fit me with about 90% accuracy – and would have been a 100% accurate description of who I was in my twenties. You can’t tell me that there isn’t some validity to astrology any more. Similarly, how much do we miss when we listen to those who tell us things are dangerous and so we don’t explore them?
I hope to begin exploring with you over the next several months what the late Br. Wayne Teasdale called “Interspirituality”. It represents my personal perspective as a priest and bishop, and I think it also will become a significant trend in spirituality in the next one hundred years! Enjoy the ride, and be not afraid!