Posts Tagged ‘conventional religion’

PSALM 16

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.”

As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
    in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
    my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
    or let your faithful one see the Pit.

11 You show me the path of life.
    In your presence there is fullness of joy;
    in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Today as in ancient times, we have to choose from among a pantheon of deities who demand our devotion. For many it is wealth, security, sex, or power. To the degree that these are the focus of investment, obsession, obedience and sacrifice, they serve to inspire our dreams and attract our worship. In other words, they are our gods.

What difference is there, really, between Baal, the fertility and harvest god in biblical times whose cult frequently competed with that of Yahweh of Israel, and Money, the god of prosperity and affluence in our day? The cult of Money – along with its attending saints Profit, Greed, and Conspicuous Consumption – drives social progress, big business, technical innovation, scientific research, class mobility, personal happiness, and even religion.

The poet believes that his deity, the Lord (Yahweh), is superior to the gods and goddesses of neighboring nations. While they might ensure a bountiful harvest or victory in war, his god provides something much more personal and, we should say, inwardly personal: inner peace, spiritual guidance, and fullness of joy. In other words, God isn’t merely an agency behind something that humans want or need, but the real presence and gracious mystery at the heart of life itself.

Interestingly in other parts of the ancient world as well, a searching intelligence was opening to the depths of existence. The Upanishads in India and Philosophy in Greece were simultaneously directing their meditations underneath and behind the phenomenal realm of everyday distractions. What were they looking for? In a word, reality.

We use this word glibly these days, but what is reality? Very literally, it’s the realness of something, its res or present being. Reality isn’t something else, on the other side of the world we sense and know. Rather it’s the depths of being itself, the really real, the real presence of mystery deep within all things. As the psalmist understood, this also means deep within ourselves.

As a causal agency behind the things that make the world go round, a god is nothing more than a personification of something we need but can’t explain. With this mystical (inward) turn, devotional focus was effectively detached from the conventional representation of this or that deity and plunged into the depths of a contemplative experience where God is present.

Not a personality but a present mystery. Not an agency behind things, but divine reality – not just a being but the very ground of being itself. God is not here to serve your needs. And – if you’re ready to hear this – God does not need your worship or devotion.

God is the heart of reality, the really real, even now rising from your depths with the invitation to an authentic and fully awakened life.

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PSALM 32

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

While I kept silence, my body wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all who are faithful
    offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
    shall not reach them.
You are a hiding place for me;
    you preserve me from trouble;
    you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    else it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the torments of the wicked,
    but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

An exceeding majority of human beings live out their lives “east of Eden” with a dark image of a wrathful deity criticizing and condemning their every step. Jean Paul Sartre, a principal voice in the early twentieth-century philosophy of Existentialism, daringly suggested that human beings are a living contradiction – “condemned to be free” and burdened with immense guilt for the “offense” of having to choose our way in this world.

Another voice of that period, Erich Fromm, commented on how an entire culture seemed willing to surrender its freedom to one authoritarian system or another, just to lighten this burden of insecurity. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it; only don’t hold me responsible, because I’m just following orders.

According to Fromm, religion has too often interfered with human development by playing the threshold guardian against our progress into maturity and responsible adulthood. So many of us never gain our liberation from guilt. Even as adults we are trying desperately to please God and win the favor of immortal life.

For its part, much of conventional religion supports this adolescent spirituality. Only in rare exceptions has it been willing to follow Jesus as far as saying, “You’re already forgiven. Now, let go of the past and get on with your life!”

MATTHEW 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus pronounced an exceptional blessing on those who are inwardly spacious, accepting on themselves the full burden of existence, living without a sense of entitlement, pursuing honesty and integrity, reaching out and helping others in need, cultivating pure and wholesome motives, and who are working diligently and patiently for peace.

Once again, we can detect a progression here. From inside to outside, the blessed and truly happy person is one who is deeply rooted in God and compassionately involved in the world. If this is Jesus’ definition of “true religion,” then it is curiously absent of orthodoxy and ceremony – the twin forces that hold together the system of conventional religion.

But there is a price.

Since conventional religion rolls along smoothly so long as its members remain sufficiently entranced, the presence of even one awakened person who sees through all the mystification and pageantry is an intolerable threat. Soon questions will be asked and curiosity will be aroused.

And if these are not checked and thrown under judgment early enough, doubts will arise and the methods for enforcing conformity – catechism for the young and unison creeds for the standing congregation – will be exposed for the propaganda devices they are. The authoritarian system is debunked when just one dissident speaks up for truth. Actually, instead of always leading to disillusionment and collapse, this can be a moment of revelation and revival.

                                                                                  

In retrospect we can see that, while Jesus gave his full attention to the promise of individual awakening, his longer vision was of a community of such enlightened and liberated persons who together can change the world. The full picture of this salvation process reveals the shape of a circle, beginning with the individual’s complete immersion in the collective habits and beliefs of the tribe. This is the place of conventional religion.

Upon the moment of awakening, which may break suddenly or else gather more slowly over time with the accumulation of questions, doubts, and discoveries, the individual is granted a new perspective. The center of meaning shifts from the shared environment of traditions, symbols, rituals and myths, into the inner space of a deepening spirituality.

This is where the all-important “individuative-reflective” stage in faith development takes place, focusing with great intensity on the emergent need for a personal, relevant, and more mystically grounded worldview.

Finally – and this brings us full-circle, though many who make it this far choose at this point to opt out of “organized religion” altogether – the awakened one returns to the group to help in the formation of spiritual community, the corporate life of radical grace, universal compassion, and unconditional forgiveness.

But as we’ve said, conventional religion itself (and conventional society as a whole) resists and will even try to violently suppress the one who seeks the transcendent flame of truth. Better to keep that flame at a distance, framing it in our theologies and worshipping it in our sanctuaries.

If you should dare throw yourself into identity with it, as Jesus did, you’d better expect trouble with the authorities!