In his comments on my blog Paul T. goes on to challenge my conviction that in the church we seek to enable all people to find their way to a heart that is open to the divine Presence.
Paul T. argues,
If it’s for ‘all people’, like you say – why do you then box it in a Christian form and with your Christian language? How does this speak to “all people” like a Buddhist or a Muslim – or a Jew who doesn’t buy into your “Presence fully embodied in the history and person of Jesus”?
The fact that I speak English does not mean I in any way diminish or demean people who speak French, German, Chinese, or Arabic. In order for our spiritual lives to be shared, they must be dressed in some kind of language.
I am a Christian. My spiritual life has been deeply shaped by the sacred texts and traditions of Christian faith. I have also learned profoundly from Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and non-institutional contemporary spirituality. But it would be dishonest of me not to acknowledge that my first language is Christian. The fact that I see truth embodied in Jesus does not mean that I see truth nowhere else or that I dismiss people who find truth in other places.
I understand that truth is much bigger than any one expression of truth. I know Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews with whom I share a deep mutual respect. I do not need them to change their beliefs in order for us to share a profound sense of spiritual connection. I do not believe they need me to abandon my faith language in order to feel that I validate their spirituality.
I connect myself with a tradition that transcends my immediate context because I am deeply conscious of the hazards of my own limited perspective. I am challenged by insights that have survived the test of thousands of years to examine more deeply my own beliefs and convictions. Tradition is not a straight jacket; it is a mirror and a challenge. If I am left to create my own spiritual beliefs by myself in isolation, I will inevitably create something that is merely made in my own image and it will have the depth and lasting power of my limited capacity and context.
Finally Paul T. accuses me of being coercive and exercising my ministry to self-serving ends:
This sounds coercive and controlling toward the Universal Presence to me for the promotion of your own religion and paycheque. I’ll take the beach, thanks!
I have no interest in promoting my “own religion.” I speak, teach, and preach consistently against any form of guilt, coercion, manipulation, and pressure. I believe human beings are created to live in response to the wind of the Holy Spirit. I am not the Holy Spirit. Hence, I am only interested in helping people open to the deep mysteries at the heart of all life.
If going to the beach and meditating facilitates people growing and deepening their experience of the wonder of life, the connectedness of all creation, and the challenge to embody compassion in relationship to all life-forms, I rejoice.
In my experience, standing beside other flesh and blood beings and singing beautiful music helps open my heart in a powerful way. Hearing other voices say prayers for the well-being of all creation helps call me back to the awareness that I am connected in a profound way to a vast universal community. Hearing ancient words of Scripture read and struggled with, helps me have a sense of connection to a rich current of wisdom and truth that transcends the present moment. Sharing in bread and wine at a table that is open to all renews week by week my awareness that we human beings belong together not because we are all the same but simply because we all partake of the same spiritual nature and all equally need to seek food for our souls. I am filled with hope every Sunday as I share in worship surrounded by who are learning that there is more to life than getting and spending.
I hope Paul T. finds all this at the beach. It is certainly my experience as I gather each Sunday in church.