In my experience, spiritual communities tend to work harder at comfort religion than confrontation religion. But comfort religion without confrontation slips into sentimentalism and is unlikely to lead to transformation. Confrontation religion without comfort is harsh and legalistic, replacing grace and mercy with moralism and judgement.
How can spiritual practitioners practice comfort religion, while at the same time confronting the massive programs of self-protection to which we all fall prey? What would it look like for a spiritual community to call us to a life of deep transforming union with the divine?
Jesus wanted his followers to live radically new lives in this world. He called those who would be his followers to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and to trust that when we get the kingdom first, every other aspect of our lives will find its proper place. (Matthew 6:33)
Paul understood the radical implications of living life conscious of the divine, saying that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (II Corinthians 5:17) Spiritual practice offers the comfort of God’s love and peace and then challenges us to live as “a new creation.”
In my tradition, we have often settled for a vision of life that is too small. We have offered comfort in the sweet by and by for those who trust in Christ and who persevere in the constant struggle to be moral and do good deeds before they die.
Paul understood that God’s vision for our lives goes far beyond this limited picture. For Paul the journey of our lives is a process of radical transformation into the likeness of the God in whose image we were created.
All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (II Corinthians 3:18)
I wonder if we expect our spiritual community to call us to lives of radical transformation. Do we anticipate the spiritual path we follow will confront us with the deep challenge to forsake all our attachments and embrace liberty?
When we experience both comfort and confrontation, we will find within ourselves an expanding security. We will know that our lives are grounded in love, that our identity is fixed in God and that we depend upon nothing other than God’s presence in our lives to support our identity or give us a sense of well-being. We will be more gentle, more open, more kind, and more gracious.
A community that practices a balance of comfort and confrontation will be characterized by non-violence, by an absence of abuse, manipulation and rigidity. It will be an expansive community, open to people wherever they may be in their lives. It will be a flexible community whose only centre is the presence of God and whose only motivation is to faithfully follow the leading of God’s unpredictable Holy Spirit.
The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)
If we are to maintain a balance of comfort and confrontation we must be people of deep prayer and worship. We must open ourselves daily to the presence of God’s Spirit at work in our lives and listen attentively to the full counsel of that Spirit.