Humility and Confidence

What do we do with people’s different understandings about God and the religious battles that go along with it? I believe we must begin by affirming that difference is real. People—in the same town and all over the world—think differently about the idea of God and have different experiences of God. That is real, and we can choose to fear it, or we can choose to welcome it, explore it, and even celebrate it.

But what does that do to our ideas about truth and reality? We might ask, for example, “Can God both exist and not exist at the same time?” That isn’t logical. But the truth is: both kinds of human experience exist! There are humans who experience or affirm God and there are humans who do not experience or affirm God. There are humans who experience or affirm certain images and ideas of God, and reject other images and ideas of God. We must take into account that all of our understanding about God comes through our human experience.

When my images and ideas about God began to change, something opened up before me. I embarked on a journey that demanded a deeper humility and a deeper confidence. I needed humility to recognize the incompleteness of my spiritual experience and the validity of truth beyond my understanding. I also needed to have confidence to claim my own experience as valid, whether or not others agreed with me.

I believe that each person’s experience is valid, at least in part, and the fullest truth is that which is weighed in community with the experience of others. This is one reason why I later chose to find a home within a Unitarian Universalist spiritual community that welcomes diverse beliefs. There is a Hebrew proverb: “Hospitality to strangers is greater than reverence for the name of God.” To live within a diverse spiritual community, we must cling more strongly to an open heart, than to specifics images and beliefs about God.

Heart StoneWhat this means for me is that the real God might be everywhere—hidden within each person, in each plant or animal, in each sunrise or stormy day, in the ordinary and the spectacular alike. Or God might be no where at all. It means that revelation is continuous and always unfolding. It means that words and images like God or Spirit or Mystery are metaphors trying to describe what is indescribable. The Sufi poet Rumi said,

“Just remember: it’s like saying of the king, he is not a weaver… words are on that level of God-knowing.”

My colleague the Rev. Forrest Church has said:

“The power which I cannot explain or know or name I call God. God is not God’s name. God is my name for the mystery that looms within and arches beyond the limits of my being. Life force, spirit of life, ground of being, these too are names for the unnamable which I am now content to call my God.”

Quote from The Soul of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems, translated by Coleman Barks, p. 77.

Trust Your Own Journey

Gate The spiritual journey is a path of waking up our awareness. It demands that we trust our experience, become friends with our burning. It does not matter if your hunger is a different hunger than mine: you must trust your own hunger. Sufi mystic Rumi writes that our hunger itself is proof of the existence of bread. Our thirst is proof that there is such a thing as water. If we trust our deepest inner hunger it will lead us on our own spiritual path.

I cannot tell you what your spiritual path must be. I can only offer you some gleanings, some sparks of light for your spiritual journey from my experience of following my own burning, and my experience of being in community with the people of my congregation and other spiritual searchers. Hallway with DoorsSomeone once described our faith community as a hallway with many doors to the holy. One temptation is to get stuck in the hallway, celebrating the freedom to choose whichever door we want, rather than to open any of them. There is a Buddhist parable that says we can’t find water by digging many shallow wells. To begin a spiritual journey we must actually open a door, and walk through to where it leads us.

Albert Einstein’s questioning hungers led him to open a door into scientific experimentation and mathematical reasoning, and he followed that pathway more deeply than most minds are able to fathom. Was that a spiritual journey? I think so. He became a friend to his own burning. His vision has inspired and changed our lives, even if most of us could not explain the theories he developed.

Spirituality is not an escape from the world. Spirituality is about experiencing more deeply our relationship to all that is. Spirituality is awakening to awe and gratitude for all that is. We don’t have to be a Rumi or an Einstein to enter a spiritual doorway. We only need to become friends with our own burning.

Frederick Buechner says,“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.” 

To be spiritual means to pay attention to our own experience of the mysterious reality of which we are a part. I am inviting you to take a risk—to befriend your hunger, to pay attention, to go through the doorway, to see what you might experience about our miraculous world.

To take that next step through the door can be difficult. We might be suspicious of what lies on the other side. We may be drawn to mystery, but uncomfortable with the irrational or unproven. We might discover old wounds triggered by the symbols or language from difficulties in our religious past.  How do we heal?  How do we re-imagine or reclaim our own connection to divinity?

For now, I invite you to notice what is in your heart.  Notice the hungers you feel, the questions, the passions, the fears.  Notice, just notice, any wounds you may carry that surface when you approach a doorway into spirituality. Make a list.  Explore what triggers those wounds, and let yourself remember any painful experiences from your own religious past.  I will continue to explore these questions in future posts.

Mystics & Heretics

An emphasis on spirituality as experience is not really new. It can also be found among those who were called mystics in all the great religious traditions. They were sometimes called heretics because they didn’t worry too much about dogma. We don’t really have the language to adequately describe spiritual experience. When we use words like God or Goddess, we are just grasping at straws, using words and images to try to convey what cannot be defined.

Fire DSC04621The poet Rumi, a Sufi mystic in the tradition of Islam, said that language doesn’t matter, the words we use don’t matter. “The love-religion has no code or doctrine.” Spirituality is not about what we believe, but what we feel. What matters is seeing, touching, knowing, loving. What matters is the burning of our hearts. He says we must become friends with our burning.

[Quotes from The Essential Rumi, trans. by Coleman Barks]