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A Once and Future Religion

What if I don’t believe in a metaphysical deity who is running The Show? What if I don’t take the Bible literally? What if I regard heaven and hell as mythological constructs rather than actual places? What if the soul for me is not a separate and immortal center of who I am? What if I see religion as a system for coordinating the multiple concerns of human existence, instead of a holy regime revealed from above and established for all time. What if I don’t believe that ‘everything happens for a reason’? What if I am not waiting for Jesus to come again, or trying to convert others to my way of life?

What if I believe that a religion is right or wrong, true or false, depending on the quality of consciousness, breadth of compassion, and persistent kindness it inspires in its adherents? What if I’m of the opinion that a religion (any religion) might follow or fall off the path of salvation; and that ‘salvation’ is about coming together, getting healthy, and becoming whole – not escaping and leaving behind the mess we’re in.

And then again, what if I choose to regard this so-called mess of a world as a perpetual twilight of peace, love, joy, and hope?

You might call me a pitiful contradiction.

It’s impossible, you say, to have peace without god, to know genuine love without believing church doctrine, to experience real joy unless it is fixed on something outside the world, or to live with any hope unless my destiny is secure in the next life.

Once upon a time – and still once in a while – religion, its god, the community of faith, and the individual believer worked all together in support of a way of life that honored the sacred thresholds of birth and death, that cultivated an intimate relationship between our pressing needs and a provident universe, that opened human hearts and minds to the present mystery of reality, and that inspired us to look deeply into that mystery with wonder, gratitude, and responsibility.

But then it happened – and happens still – that religion became oppressive and its god an idol, that believers turned into prisoners (convicts) of their beliefs (convictions), and all the sacred rhythms that once coordinated and connected the varieties of human experience collapsed into empty ritual, rigid doctrines, blind tradition, and heavy obligations. The sacred myths that, in the communal act of telling, once generated a fictional performance space for the transformation of consciousness, were screwed down into writing and taken as eye-witness reports of supernatural facts.

For the longest time religion was a vibrant force in human society, not a violent one. It was the generator of ultimate meaning, not a propaganda factory of apocalyptic fears. It brought people together rather than drive them apart. Religion was about sacred grounding and holy communion, not terrorism and holy wars. It healed our brokenness and raised us to new life. It affirmed the cosmos as friendly and Earth as our home. Religion deepened our faith, challenged our tendency toward self-interest, and encouraged our compassionate outreach into the Web of Life.

It did all of this before god (animism), occasionally during the reign of gods (theism), and now after god has passed beyond definition (post-theism), gradually waking in the lives of millions around our planet today whose religion is loving-kindness.

This is my belief.flower

 

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A Grateful Life

As my mother receives guests into her home and says goodbye to old friends, some deep questions poke to the surface of my conscious thought. What is this life that I so easily take for granted, this stretch of 80 years (if I’m lucky) from cradle to grave?

Just now the morning sun glows in the curtains, dappling the floor in a play of shadows and light. In five minutes it will be different – but that’s only because my attention chunks time into snapshots for measurement and comparison. Actually, each moment opens a unique touch-point on reality, where the fluttering pattern of light and shade is continuous with yet utterly different from what it was just a moment before.morning

How wide is a moment of time? Just a flash, a dissolving threshold? Am I not always in it – however wide or impossibly narrow it may be?

This, right now, is the present because at this very moment reality presents itself to my awareness. As present, it is a gift that I can open or set aside for later.

But if I should set it aside – out of intentional avoidance, preoccupation, laziness or on the promise that I’ll get back to it, it’s no longer there when I do.

The past isn’t where the present goes. It’s only how I remember or try to recall what happened, a fixed snapshot in my album.

I also spend a lot of time looking ahead, into the future, which is not the present coming to me but merely my mind again, chasing out the trendlines, flopping assumptions from over my shoulder and onto the path ahead.

So whether I’m reaching back to recover the past or looking forward to predict the future, I’m doing all of it in the present. This won’t be here again. Yesterday I was hoping for something else, and tomorrow I’ll be wishing I could have it back.

How many presents go unopened?

What if the sun comes up tomorrow morning and plays in the curtains again – but I’m no longer here to witness it? It won’t be chunked and framed, and it won’t be around for me to remember later. What if I’m not around tomorrow? What if this day is my last? What if this moment is the final present I have a chance to open?

Truthfully we can never know, can we? And that realization will either drive you insane with anxiety or call you to present-minded wonder and appreciation. If all there is is right now, then right here is where we need to start digging. Or maybe that’s already too willful and aggressive. Close your eyes and just relax into being.

The opening of reality to me in this moment coincides with the opening of my attention to the present mystery – or perhaps they are really the same. This moment is for me in the sense that the mystery presenting itself is made present as I give my attention to it.

But what am I supposed to do with it – this precious gift of time? I can’t simply gush all over it with sentimental acknowledgment of its fleeting character, grabbing up as much as I can before it slips through my fingers. Life can’t be lived perpetually in a stoned haze, gazing in stupefied amazement as it vanishes in wispy rings above our heads.

Maybe it’s the “harsh realities” of daily life – all the deadlines, appointments, and concerns – that push me to an opposite stance, where I’m perfectly willing to squander the moment in distraction or worry.

This could be what’s behind the worldwide tendency in religion to postpone what really matters to a later time, a distant paradise, on the other side. While the soul longs for authentic life now, mystical communion here, and deep peace in this moment, my ego-in-charge is too busy trying to hold its own and make progress against the steady drain of time. Having the assurance that I’m all set for life everlasting excuses me from fully investing in life here and now.

What if this is all I have, my only “at bat,” my exclusive opportunity to open up to the Real Presence of mystery. Do you pity me?

Please (and respectfully) save it for someone else.

Today I will begin receiving guests into my life and saying goodbye to old friends, knowing that this may be our last or only chance to touch the divinity in each other.

Tomorrow morning, if I am offered a gift of the sun dancing in curtains, I will notice, open the present, and give thanks.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2014 in Timely and Random

 

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