Monday, December 28, 2015

Honing Down on a Spiritual Practice

How can I at once be drawn to the person of Jesus and simultaneously ambivalent (at best) to the religion I believe best represents the movement He supposedly started?  I've been looking for a spiritual practice where I can base my values on Jesus, because they're familiar and resonate with me as true.  Yet at the same time, I didn't feel comfortable in a spiritual practice drenched in the concepts of original sin, being hell-bound, human sacrifice to appease a vengeful god, and suffering as the new happiness.  You know, Christianity.

I knew Islam claims to respect Jesus, even Mary, but really, there is nothing in their practice based on Jesus as a central figure.  Obviously Judaism is either ambivalent or downright antagonistic towards the figure of Jesus.  Lots of comparisons can be found between Jesus and Buddha (Sidhrtha Gautama), but no Buddhist follows Jesus; rather, they take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.  Buddhists do not take refuge in the Christ.  Some of the newer movements sparked my interest too, but ever so briefly.  The Unitarian Universalists and the Baha'i in particular.  But there was something gnawing at me to put my faith in an ancient tradition.

In fact, while in high school, a Japanese exchange student once asked me why I was a Catholic (she was an atheist).  I remember giving her a very simplistic reason.  Catholicism was the original Christianity, which was born from the oldest religion, ie. Judaism, therefore must be true.  Something lame like that.  Never mind that I now know that Hinduism is actually the world's oldest religion.

Apparently there may be room for what I'm looking for, for someone like me, within the Hindu tradition.  Apparently, Jesus (as Ishu) is an actual prominent figure for some Hindus, who look to Him as their guru.  Could it be that I could follow the example and teachings of Jesus outside of Christianity after all?

I've always held a very childish idea of God.  Something like a cross between a genie and Santa Clause.  He's all-powerful, so he can grant any wish to anyone, if only he desires.  But he is also just in that if I've been bad, I will not get what's on my wishlist.  Even though I would mouth the words that God is all-powerful, having this very fantastical view of him automatically limited him to, well, the realm of fantasy.  I think this is why I struggled with the Trinity.  There was no need for the Son and the Spirit, if we already had the Santa-Genie God.  I just couldn't phathom their purpose in my worldview.

Lately, I've become more and more aware of the fact that my view of God has changed, has become less and less graspable, less personal and more transcendent.  God's physical body (that which occupied my mind) dissolved and enveloped the entire universe (or multiverse).  He is now barely detectable, yet still undeniably there.  But he doesn't sit down to converse with people anymore.  He doesn't engage in our petty human tit-for-tat.  He doesn't waste time (sic!) weighing our good deeds against our bad deeds, or lamenting the fact that His perfect plan for a utopian universe went to hell when He allowed us free will.

No, these are human traits, human stories, human explanations.  God simply is.  He is in the business of creating, sustaining, breathing life into living beings, transforming dying creatures into something strictly spiritual.  He sees the big picture and doesn't fret over disasters like we do.  He knows everything is temporary because that's the way He made it.  Only His eternal creativity is eternal.  We call it love, that God is love, because we all want to be loved, and what better boost to our self-confidence than to believe the Almighty loves us.  But love - the way I have understood and experienced it - automatically means favoring someone over someone else.  We marry the person we love, not everyone.  We prefer our own children to those of others because we love our children and only like other people's kids (if that!).  As with everything else, without a contrast, nothing stands on its own.  God loving me makes no sense if He equally loves everyone else.  Then it's not really love, is it?  It's something more mundane, less intense and passionate.  Again, God created everything to have an opposite.  Love is one of those wonderful gifts He created and gave us.  Love is how we can feel secure while in this earthly realm of ours.  We cannot imagine God not loving us, yet it's exactly what I think limits Him in our minds.

So, if God-the-Creator is not so much personal as the Universal Force, then it starts to make sense why Christians came up with the concept of the Trinity.  The Holy Spirit is the very breath we breathe, our inspiration, that which carries us from moment to moment until we are ready to be reunited with our Divine Source.  And Jesus is a way for us to have a God who loves us.  Jesus the historical figure, didn't tell people "God loves you".  He did say "love one another as I have loved you", but He didn't say "I love you because God loves me.  Pass it on."  He took the mysterious power of God and translated it into something we both longed for and could understand.  He loved us.  Even this is problematic, if we believe that Jesus is God and/or that Jesus loves everyone.  We're then back to the dilemma of no contrast to His love.  If He loves us, whom does He not love?  Aha! Enter Satan!  Jesus hates Satan.  Satan is our enemy.  We fight against Satan by siding with Jesus.

Only I've never really been on board with the whole Satan concept.  It implies a duality beyond the source.  Either the Divine Source had within it evil that split into Satan, or it was a separate entity all along, which begs the question, how can there be two sources?

On the one hand, I say that theology shouldn't matter so long as morality and ethics are there.  On the other hand, I cannot imagine a spiritual practice bringing me peace and joy if I am not convinced that it is based on, and leading me to, truth.  I've tried the whole "fake it till you make it" approach, which may work for some people, or in some circumstances, but a spiritual practice just seems to be too important for me to approach it willy-nilly.

I cannot imagine going through the rest of my life without spirituality playing a central role, but I have to embrace something that brings me peace and joy and motivates me to live like Jesus taught.

I know this means I have to start spending daily time in silence, preferably in nature but not necessarily, in order to just allow myself to decompress from the constant noise in my mind.  With time, I'll want to increase the length of this silence until I give myself enough time to not just quiet my mind, but allow inspiration to enter.  I may need to chant or count breaths or lean on some other crutch at first in order to keep busy thoughts at bay.  I've found in the past that yoga is a great way for me to focus on the present moment.  I need to start doing yoga regularly, ending with a period of silent sitting, having given myself a chance to detox from the noise of the every day.

I also need to choose a few of my all-time favorite spiritual songs and listen to them and/or sing them, again, on a daily basis.  This will give me something positive and uplifting to focus on, especially when I am drowning in worry or negativity.  Perhaps a few songs before yoga, followed by meditation?

One thing I know is that I cannot allow myself to think that reading or writing can take the place of my spiritual practice.  I've tried spiritual journaling and Lectio Divina, and while they are both good resources, I think they can at best be supplements to the spiritual practice I've outlined above.

So I will begin this week with five minutes of singing/listening to music, five minutes of yoga, and five minutes of meditation  (Quakers would call it waiting worship).  I will squeeze these in whenever I can, by next week shooting for combining them into a single 15-minute stretch of time.  Then I'll revisit the practice after a week.

Perhaps if I click "publish", I will feel obligated to really give it a go...

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