This thought came to mind while I sat in worship the other week:
Why does the "Jesus language" of the Church still move me like it does?It may sound like a strange question to raise while sitting in a Christian worship service, especially a highly liturgical Episcopal Church, many light-years distant from my original Christian home of an independent fundamentalist-type Baptist Church. But I am no longer that almost 16-year old who was baptized 50 years ago. I no longer have the narrow vision of "getting to heaven" as the goal of the Christian life nor the understanding that only people like "me" will get in. My understanding of the love and GRACE of God has brought me to a whole different place as to what I think church and God and faith are all about.
I could go even further and ask:
Why does Christian iconography, Eucharistic liturgy and many hymns still make chills run up my spine and even tears form gently at the edge of my eyes?I have over the years discovered depth of spirituality in many ways, times and places far beyond the Christian "way." Yoga, Tai Chi, Buddhist meditation, the presence of the Spirit in many places (and people.) Saying the great Jewish affirmation in Hebrew:
Shema Yisrael, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echadmoves me as much as the Lord's Prayer though in different ways. Singing a "Kyrie" in Latin touches places in my soul that the the English (which connects with my cognitive brain) cannot. The Doxology or the Gloria in English come forth with a sense of transcendence that words don't convey.
Today I believe more firmly in the existence of an eternal and infinite God, Creator of all, who I believe is named in many more ways than we humans are even capable of imagining. Hence every time I think I have come to a good understanding of God- that all is figured out- I catch myself and step back. If little old me in the 21st Century can understand God's infinite ways, that is not God. Time to move on- and keep it simple. God is God- I am not. Nothing else says it nearly as clearly as that.
So I ask the above questions. They come to mind because the Jesus language of the church has so often been used as exclusiveness instead of openness. It has been used to badger, harass and even kill people "in Jesus' Name." Some might ask, if I am not as narrow in my understanding, why do I keep using the language?
Well, the first answer to my questions is relatively easy. It's a hard-wired part of my brain and soul. After 50 years as a practicing Christian, it touches my life and soul and spirit because it accesses deep portions of my unconscious. These places were planted in those formative years of middle-adolescence and young adulthood. The neurochemicals of my brain respond when these external rituals and actions occur. I also know that these "Christian" ceremonies and endeavors on my part connect with something beyond me- a power greater than myself.
Even as I know that these are not the only ways to make those same connections, they have been part of my spiritual life for 50 years. Yes, then, they DO provide a foundation that in many ways still works, doing what I have needed it to do all these years.
There are, of course things that don't work in the same ways. They were important, but today aren't as effective. I think that comes simply from changes in time, place and age. I have learned to go deeper. For me that has been essential. For that I am also grateful.
The second answer to my question builds on the first. Being secure in the foundation allows me to continue to grow and explore the infinite ways God works. That means some of the words I use today have a different meaning to me today than they used to. Call it "syncretism" but the other ways to God have changed the idea behind the words. Some of that is made more real by seeing the similarities as well as the differences between the paths to, from, and with God. Which ones work for me and my personality? Which don't- but certainly can for others?
This has been one of the more difficult areas. Having originally become Christian in a more exclusive, narrow understanding of Christianity's place in the world (the ONLY way!) I still wrestle from time to time with the inevitable "What if it IS the only way?" question. As I have delved more deeply into spirituality, though, I have found that many spiritual practices are universal. Others are more culturally-based. Others are even based on political/ideological understandings. Therefore, I listen to the spirit as the Spirit has been mediated to humanity in the infinite ways throughout history. I find I am in good company.
The third answer to my questions is, believe it or not, the Church itself. Not any particular church but the Church Historic, the Church Universal, and the Church Triumphant. The Church today is in no way shape or form anything like the Church of my youth, let alone of the 16th or 1st Centuries. Much of what we now believe is THE way to interpret Scripture and History, has not been so for most of Church history. The Church, as a human institution, is continuing to evolve and grow- mature.
In fact over the past few years the "progressive" side of Christianity has certainly moved many ways away from what would even have been "liberal" those 50 years ago. Questions are being asked in new ways, theology is being worked on from new perspectives. Churches are taking healthier stances on issues, being more inclusive and compassionate in new ways.
Continuing to be part of that movement is exciting. As I have gotten older, I have found comfort in things old AND new. It would be very sad if the church (or The Church) of 2014 was just the same as the one of 1948 or 1727, Luther or Hus, Augustine or Paul. If it were, I am not sure I would be able to be there. Sure, some of the rituals and language are similar to other periods. But in these familiar words and actions is where we, the Church, and the Holy Spirit together see the Scripture come alive:
Behold, I am making all things new.