Finding Our Way Again
By Brian Mclaren. Thomas Nelson, 2008. 978-0-8499-2106-3
Is your religion a way of life or a system of belief? When people reject Christianity it may be just because of the way it is presented, structured and lead. Conventional organised religion doesn't have all the answers and perhaps we need a fusion of the sacred and the secular. Religion and secularism both fail to provide answers.
There are three options that we can take in forming a framework for our beliefs: militarist scientific secularism, pushy religious fundamentalism and mushy amorphous spirituality. We need something more, a fourth option.
How does daily life affect you? How do you deal with what happens to you and how does it change you? That reminds me of something we were talking about on my NLP course recently: how we think and how we react to situations influences our behaviour and feelings. What character do you want to have and what are you developing? Can spiritual practices help to bridge that gap? They can be earthy, they are about humanity and aliveness. They could be called life pratices or humane practices because they help us to practice being alive, and humanely so. They develop not just character but aliveness, alertness, wakefulness and humanity.
Spiritual practices are about Spirit and being open to God, tuning into the Holy, hearing the Word and the gentle pressure of presence. All creation unfolded from the Divine source and spiritual practices are ways of becoming awake and staying awake to God. They can help reshape us for a more intentional, alternative and perceptive way of living. What will your character be like in 10 years? How alive do you feel at the present moment?
People of faith may interrupt their lives with an intentional experience of discomfort, dislocation and intensity to seek new and unknown places. They may interrupt their family, work church life and any other familiar things to go on a pilgrimage. Pilgrimages need a home to set out from and a destination to reach. See Abraham (Genesis 12:1-4). Also important are fasting (not just from food), sacred meals, prayer, tithing/giving, sabbath/rest and liturgical prayer. I know that my journey feels much like a pilgrimage, though I have no clear idea where the ultimate destination is - other than being in a new place after having gone through a process of travel, learning, exploration and challenge. I feel that any trip I make to Herefordshire or to Dartmoor is one. Even going out for walk or bike ride locally can be a mini pilgrimage. Walking or cycling out into the countryside is always about going on a journey and experiencing something new.
Jesus was not a Christian but a Jew who proclaimed a new way, a new management and set of values, a new order and a new array of priorities and commitments, a new vision of peace and how to achieve it. He embodied this new way "I am the path". He was a leader, mentor, teacher, artist and rabbi. Jesus never makes Christians or converts, he forms disciples who then follow his way. He pointed the way for a movement, not a religion or an institution. I wonder whether emphasis is often placed more on Jesus as a forgiving person and Saviour than on what he himself may have actually stood for. I'm happier with that than the concept of just giving my life up to Jesus, focussing entirely on him and not actually taking responsibility for forming a balanced approach to my spiritual life. If this isn't clear, perhaps what I am saying is as follows: I have a path that I would like people to follow of they choose, but in no way do I want to become an iconic figurehead that is worshipped and revered. If Jesus did think that way, then I'd be happy to be put right if I should ever meet him, but it doesn't sit with my perception of how it should be.
Heaven and Hell are popularly understood as destinations beyond history and outside of this earth. If we focus on them in the wrong way then it can lead us to ignore this earth and this life. Do you want to escape this earth to be with God in Heaven or do you want to join God in healing this earth form personal and social evil? If we make Heaven after this life our prime destination for our spiritual way, are we then running away form the problems of the world? What if God's goal or destination for creation is a healed and healthy earth, with plant, animal and human systems that share in that health? Rather than seeing God's earth as a lost cause. What if God cared both for this life and the after life - they are both "life", both the Kingdom of God, both two facets of the same gift? Why does this seem like a "so obvious and why haven't I heard this before" type of thing? Though I probably have somewhere.
"Practice makes possible some things that wold otherwise have been impossible. [...] The gift never stops being a gift, but the gift 'happens' to those who are practiced in ways it doesn't happen to those who aren't." Contemplative practices then, are means by which we become prepared for grace to surprise us:
- Solitude, Sabbath, Silence
- Spiritual reading and study
- Spiritual direction/friendship
- Practicing God's presence
- Fixed hour prayer
- Prayer journalling
- Contemplative prayer
- Simplicity and slowness
- Fasting and self-denial
- Feasting and celebration
- Holy days and seasons
- Meditation and memorisation
There is quite a good passage in the book about community and the role the church plays in this: "Going to church when you don't feel like it becomes the most important kind of going to church there is". It is about commitment to the purpose - we should learn and live a way of life that motivates us to turn up. Withdrawal from community practices can become a habit and also an unhelpful practice. People of faith then become grim and apathetic, so the author says, but then goes on to say that people who drop out of churches can seem happier, healthier and closer to God than before. I understand the important role that churches play in the creation and development of thriving Christian communities but perhaps I just have to work through some things...
The ecology of our planet is in trouble (Hmm, so is our economic system!) but isn't that outer disharmony and imbalance related to the disharmony and imbalance in our inner ecology? We should be thinking of practices that form and transform both our outer and inner ecologies of souls and world.
How can churches meet the needs of people who want to move out of their "box"? I you stop people form learning, sharing and loving then isn't that working against God and the plotline of the universe? Are you willing to change, to let go and allow change - to find your way again? God's Spirit works across denominations, ideologies etc in different ways at different times - I imagine it may be like waves with peaks and troughs of inspiration by the Holy Spirit. Where do you draw the line as to what is Christian and what isn't? I don't think it is as obvious as I have been led to believe.
The book offers a model for practicing a new way of approaching that above through various "Via...". I wasn't grabbed by them in a deep way, whereas the "Via..." ways that Matthew Fox illuminates I found far more meaningful (Via positiva, Via negativa, Via creativa and Via transformativa).