I had a conversation with a dear friend recently. He is a Church of England priest, so although we share very similar world views our theology has points of divergence. In this conversation I was trying to describe what ‘spirituality’ still meant to me and how I seek adventure in new meaning. Because my friend is full of grace, he listened and talked it through with me, even though he found some of what I said troubling – I entirely umderstand why, but remain unrepentant.
My points went something like this. When trying to understand the spiritual path I am drawn towards, I use these tools;
- What sings in my soul. I know this sounds like airy-fairy, self centred post-modernism, but I think at some level it has always been true, for all of us. I am just more at peace with letting go the doctrine and codified belief systems that no longer resonate. (I know too that the things that sing in my soul always resonate with the teachings of Jesus, but increasingly I am open to a wider set of reference points.)
- Things that are to do with love, beauty or brokenness. This is hard to describe other than to say that when one or more of these things is communicated, my own broken humanity responds in a way that makes everything technicolour.
- What I have recieved from people/sources I trust. You could use the word ‘apostle’ here. We learn tihngs from people who have already taken us along the way. The dangers of trusting the wrong voices are obvious – consider the way that social media shapes us by feeding us bias – but ideas and inspiration is often an external thing, offered by others.
- What I have found to be useful. This last point relates to how spiritual ideas might be seen to shape both individuals and wider human communities towards good.
The last point is the one that I want to talk about a little more. It has been obvious throughout most of my life that mainstream religion, certainly in the West, has had far too little to say about social and economic justice. More recently, it has had little to say about climate change/justice either. It is not that individuals within faith traditions has not brought huge energy to bear in challenging these great injustices, but rather that mainstream theology has not offered a coherant story or an idea that has enabled the radical changes that I believe to be necessary. By and large, faith seems to have contributed to the status quo as determined by those powers that want things to stay the same.
For example (in case you needed it) I grew up within an evangelical Christian tradition that promoted individual salvation (after we die) above all else. They called this ‘the gospel’. It took me years to realise that this way of seeing the world/reading the Bible/understanding the mission of Jesus was full of subjectivity and distortions, and that there had always been other ways to approach the story. The story has more to teach us if we allow ourselves to be taught.
What still interests me (and keeps me returning, despite everything) is how faith motivates us to reach for something better, somthing deeper, more ‘true’, more loving, particularly in the context of a changing world facing huge challenges. To put it another way, what ways of seeing the world/reading the bible/understanding the mission (gospel) of Jesus might be USEFUL to us?
I think I have found some intriguing clues- not answers as such, but certainly ones that invite me to respond. A lot of this came to me in part through the writings of Fr Richard Rohr, particularly his most recent book ‘The Universal Christ’. I tried to describe some of this in a post a couple of years ago. You could say that Rohr has fulfilled that ‘apostle’ role I described previously, and also that as I read his worlds, something deep inside me said YES. There was great love and beauty in the whole story.
Also, his theological ideas seemed useful in a way that nothing else had for some time. He painted an idea of a unified, interdependent, interconnected world in which ‘The Christ’ was another word for everything. In this reading, God loves things by becoming them. These ideas came from Rohr’s Fransican tradition, and have been tested over time by deep theological thinkers, but it really feels to me that they are needed now, more than ever before.
In this reading, the purpose of faith is to shine light on the great goodness of all created things and the great interdpendence of all created things. It is also to note the brokeness within the nature of creation which we, as part of the whole, seek to heal and to ‘save’. This is not then restricted to saving the chosen frozen in a mythical and much feared afterlife, but rather about the here and now and what is within our grasp. How might such a reading change our relationship to the world?
I would argue that it changes everything.
Those of you who are travellers in a faith tradition will no doubt have all sorts of concerns and questions about my simplistic summary above and you would be right to do so. After all theological statements should allways be questioned and wrestled with. (Perhaps, however, you would be best to start with your own!)
Finally, if you have read this in bemusement that anyone might find motivation and inspiration in dead religion, then… well I have no desire to convince you otherwise. Find yours elsewhere and let that sing in your soul instead.