My Dear SBNR Friend (continued),

The questions I posed yesterday are challenging for me. You cause me to ask myself, “What do I really believe I gain from my practice of church?”

In my personal experience I can think of at least four things church contributes to my spiritual life:

1. Tradition – I know it sounds like a dull and dreary concept but when we link ourselves to an established religious community, we join a rich deep heritage of practice and belief that transcends merely the present moment and outlasts the fickle transience of human temperament.

I did not create my own spiritual tradition. It is a gift that has been passed down to me by people of faith from generation to generation. My connection with this gift is strengthened by sharing it with other people. I trust that the vessel that has borne this gift in my life will enable me to transmit its richness to my children and my grand-children as they share in the community that supports this deep transmission of faith.

2. Community – I know that the church has failed probably more often than it has succeeded in creating meaningful authentic community. I also know it is possible to have rich meaningful community outside of established structures. But embracing the discipline of belonging to an existing embodiment of human community connects me with a diverse group of people with whom I might not normally have chosen to associate.

The hard work of belonging in a community that is bigger than my likes or dislikes and more diverse than my narrow range of personal interests and concerns, offers me a crucible in which I learn to grow in my ability to love and practice compassion.  It bears witness to the possibility that people may be able to live together in respectful nurturing relationships across generations and over a lifetime because of their commitment to values that are higher than mere common interest.

3. Transcendence – This is one of those challenging over-sized religious words that get people like me in trouble. But, there is no better way I know to communicate the fact that connecting myself to a religious tradition that is bigger than myself, helps me grow into an awareness of the deep mystery and beauty of life.

There is a power greater than I can begin to contain or comprehend that stalks the edges of my life. By joining regularly with people who share that same awareness of transcendence and seek to honour it in a communal act of worship, my trust and faith in that power is deepened and strengthened. Perhaps it is merely a sign of my weakness, but I need, on a regular basis, to be around people who embody in word and action their conviction that there is more to life than the merely horizontal, tangible, material realm.

4. Embodiment – We humans are not disembodied spirits. We are vessels of the invisible mystery of light and beauty from which we come. The vessel and its contents are integrally related, each informing and nurturing the other.  Our spiritual life is enriched by physical beauty, music, colour, art, drama, movement, sound, vision, and the presence of a diverse gathering of people joining in ritual observances of ancient tradition.

When Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20), he certainly did not mean that when we are alone love and truth and beauty are absent. But he did mean that, when we gather as a community our spirit is deepened by the presence of other people who share our intention to open to the deep hidden mystery that we believe is at the heart of life. There is a quality of energy and life that is present when we gather with focused attention that is generally less intense when we are alone.

So my SBNR Friend that is my experience. I rejoice in your spiritual journey and affirm it with deep respect. I trust that you will continue to travel in the deep stream of mystery and love that is the true meaning of human existence. I pray you may find encouragement along the way and I am grateful for the encouragement and challenge you are in my life.

There is one more question you stir in my heart. It is probably a vastly more important question than the one I asked today. So, it will need to wait until tomorrow.

**************

This post originally appeared at: http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/blogs/spiritually-speaking-1.61091/spiritual-but-not-religious-a-letter-to-my-sbnr-friend-pt-2-1.1014767