Thursday, August 23, 2012

Called to Question

I just finished reading Sister Joan Chittister's book Called to Question: a spiritual memoir.
I highly recommend it to anyone who is seeking to develop their spirituality.

She states very clearly one of the assumptions of this blog:

"the God who can be thought of cannot possibly be God." 

Perhaps what I need is to stop trying to think so much about "God."
Rather, what I probably need is to be more open to experiencing the Mystery of the cosmos.

I do believe that what I think in my head is not nearly as important as what I hold in my heart.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Again, What is God?

"There are over six billion people in this  world and each person has his or her own thoughts about God."    --Madeline L'Engle

Try asking five friends "What is God?"

Odds are you will get at least five or more different responses.

The book God Without Religion: Questioning Centuries of Accepted Truths by Sankara Saranam (which I have not yet read--"so many books, so little time") has an interesting Foreword by Arun Gandhi:

     The central question within this book, and in life itself, is "What is God?" This question has bafled humankind for eons, and it will continue to defy logical understanding...Perhaps, instead of espousing exclusively rational images of God, we would best serve God and one another more faithfully by remaining open to the mystery that transcends our understanding.
     When asked what he thought of the meaning of God, grandfather [Mohandas Gandhi]said:"There is an undefinable mysterious Power that pervades everything. I feel it, though I do not see it. It is this unseen Power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so beyond all that we perceive through our physical senses. While we certainly do experience God's existence, our attempts to reason it out intellectually will always prove to be a humbling and limited exercize.

     Grandfather wrote, "I do dimly perceive that whilst everything around me is ever-changing, ever-dying, there is underlying all that change a Living Power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves and re-creates. That informing Power or Spirit is God....For I can see that in the midst of death life persists; in the midst of untruth truth persists; in the midst of darkness light persists. Hence I gather that God is Life, Truth, and Light. God is Love. God is the Supreme Good.


     More to contemplate from Madeline L'Engle:

"If I could comprehend God completely, God wouldn't be worth bothering about.
I'm finite, God is  infinite; the finite cannot comprehend the infinite.
But we get enough glimpses."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Religion versus Spirituality

The other night at dinner with good friends, the subject of religion versus spirituality came up.

In recent years, I have filled a file with notes and papers on this subject; but I have only just recently identified what I judge the clearest and best description of the difference between them.

It is found in Chapter Two of Joan Chittister's book,  Called to Question (p.19): 

     Religion is about what we believe and why we believe it. It is about the tradition, the institution, the system. Constructed over centuries--more than five thousand years ago for Hinduism, the first formal religion--religion draws for the world a portrait of creation and relationships. It gives us creeds and dogmas and definitions of God. It gathers us in worship and reminds us of a world to come.

     Spirituality is about the hunger in the human heart. It seeks not only a way to exist, but a reason to exist that is beyond the biological or the institutional or even the traditional. It lifts religion up from the level of the theoretical or the mechanical to the personal. It seeks to make real the things of the spirit. It transcends rules and rituals to a concentration on meaning. It pursues in depth the mystical dimensions of life that religion purports to promote.

Sister Joan then ends the chapter on page 24 with this:

Religion, the finger pointing at the moon, is not the moon. Simply keeping the rules, accepting the conventions, and loving the pomp that comes with religion will not get us there. For that we need a spirituality of search.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Definitions of Spirituality

Spirituality means different things to different people.

Here are some descriptions that I find meaningful:

"...spirituality is not a separate part of life but rather the deepest dimension and ground of all life."
                                                          [from the Institute of Spiritual Companionship]

"Spirituality has many definitions but at its core spirituality helps to give our life context. It's not necessarily connected to a specific belief system or even religious worship. Instead, it arises from your connection with yourself and with others, the development of your personal value system, and your search for meaning in life...Spirituality is different for everyone."
                             [from Mayo Clinic's website on "Stress Management"]

"The essence of the spiritual life is to stay connected to the sacred place within that holds the memory of wholeness, peace and balance for us, no matter how far our hearts or minds may be pulled."                             
                                                [Jonathan H. Ellerby]

To me, my spirituality is what motivates me, deep down, to get out of bed in the morning and face the adventure of a new day; and then my spirituality helps me cope with whatever joys and sorrows may come.                                                                        

Monday, August 6, 2012


My fundamentalist Baptist childhood indoctrinated me with the notion that it was wrong to ask questions.

As I recall, we were taught to question anything in the Bible was the work of "Satan."

Perhaps it is a sign that I am 'full of the devil', but I have never been free of questions.
Case in point--one of my earliest sermons (late'60's) was entitled:


This morning Janice (my spiritual coach, and wife) shared a wonderful paragraph from the book entitled Called to Question by Sister Joan Chittister:

IF THERE IS ONE THING THAT WE HAVE ALL BEEN TAUGHT to fear, it is surely questions.
There are some things, we learn early, that are never to be challenged. They simply are. They are absolute. They come out of a fountain of eternal truth. And they are true because someone else said they are true. So we live with someone else's answers for a long time. Until the answers run dry. I know that because I myself have been caught in the desert of doubt and found the answers to be worse than the questions could ever be. [p. 2]

I have been intrigued with the current supporters of the Chick-fil-A opposition to gay marriage, based on their belief that the Bible (and God) decrees that marriage is between one man and one woman.

I am currently reading The Daily Message / Through the Bible in One Year by Eugene H. Peterson.
Now over half-way through, I have refreshed my memory of enough of the Old Testament to question whether the Bible has any coherent and consistent view of marriage. As Rabbi Rami Shapiro recently pointed out in his blog, Beyond Religion with Rabbi Rami (see "Chick-Lit" posted 8/01/12), marriage in the OT included polygamy. [Quiz: Name the one wife of Jacob? Was it Rachel or Leah? Can you say both! Check out King David and Solomon!] And my current daily readings in I Corinthians make it clear that St. Paul had a very dim view of marriage, i.e. "stay single!"

My mother in law had a friend who stated her understanding of the Biblical view of marriage:
"Once you're married you're stuck!"

Unfortunately, the fact is that many of the marriage ceremonies I have performed (my first was in 1972)  later ended in divorce. I don't have the answer to what makes one marriage last and another fail, but I'm very grateful that Janice has chosen to stay with me for 40 years come the 20th of this month!