Monday, December 30, 2013

#137 - Thoughts on Faith, Spirituality, and Religion, Part Three

(This is the third and final part of a three-part series)

In August of 2008, I began training to take over the responsibilities of another person working in Utah. Over the course of that experience, and in the months that followed, she and I became friends. For my birthday that year, she sent me a book she said had really helped her spiritually. It would do the same for me.

The book was part one of the trilogy Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch. On the surface, a book in which the author claims to have actual conversations with God might sound like a delusional journey into hallucination or even schizophrenia. But something about the book resonated with me, and things that had made little sense before became clearer.

I got so much out of Part One, that I went on to read the remaining volumes in the trilogy. Part One is an intimate, one-on-one “conversation” with God focused mainly on the spirituality of the individual. Each succeeding volume broadens its scope and builds on the messages of the first. I later added another of the author’s books, one which helped me through the transition when I was laid off from that same job five years later.

As I read through the Conversations With God series, I began to get a better sense of what I felt and believed about God, about religion, and about spirituality. At about the same time, I rediscovered my love of camping or, at this stage of my life, RVing, and reconnected with the outdoors. The convergence of these things have helped me to develop a sense of what I believe.

I came to realize that, for me, a single church or even religion was too confining because each, while including some things and people, is in its own way built on its exclusiveness. You became Catholic or Jewish or Baptist, adopting the practices and beliefs of that religion and excluding or dismissing all others. To me, God is much bigger and much more inclusive that any single religion, even bigger and more inclusive than Christianity itself.

At the same time, my wife was undertaking her own re-evaluation, helped along through a revisiting of the teachings of the late Jesuit priest Anthony DeMello. As a result, I think we both ended up in much the same place in terms of what we believe.

So what do I believe? I’m still working that out, but my beliefs tend toward what is expressed in this Hindu saying: "There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading in the same direction, so it doesn’t matter which path you take.  The only one wasting time is the one who runs around and around the mountain, telling everyone else that their path is wrong."

I believe there are many ways to find God, to experience God, to worship God, none better or worse than another. In the same way, I believe each religion and its corresponding holy text contains God’s truth, expressed in the way that makes sense to the culture in which that religion is practiced and the time frame in which that religion initially developed. Just as many different faiths, many far removed from Christianity, have their own versions of the Great Flood story, so too do many faiths have their own way of experiencing the divine, none of them better or more correct than any other.

I think perhaps the Founding Fathers and the authors of the U.S. Constitution had some sense of this idea. The First Amendment certainly expresses this notion when it states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...." Thomas Jefferson also seemed to follow the same lines when he wrote in 1802 that “religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship …”

As Jefferson infers, religion, faith, and spirituality are ultimately individual affairs. Belonging to a church or an organized religion may help some feel a sense of belonging, but it should not serve to exclude others because their church, their religion, their faith is different. For me, church and religion are too confining. I find God much bigger than that and find I am closest to God when I am closest to Nature, closest to creation itself.

As I wrote earlier, I believe God’s truth  can be found in the texts of multiple faiths. (I do not capitalize truth here as many religious writers do because I believe no one text has a monopoly on that truth.) Because of that, I hope to spend time in the coming year reading some of those texts or at least parts of those texts. I suspect I will find, as many before me have done, that there will be more similarities than differences. If I am right, then there may indeed be hope for the future, and hope is itself an expression of faith.

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