I never really wanted to go to heaven; just wanted to make sure I avoided going to hell, if there was one. The problem was that my personality likes diversity and change. I just couldn’t imagine any kind of heaven I would enjoy for eternity. (Eternity sounds like a very very long time.)
After a conversion from agnosticism complete with an experience of the unlimited, no conditions love expressed in Jesus, I felt pretty sure there was a heaven that would work for everyone, even me. But I still couldn’t imagine it.
Some years into my spiritual journey I had an experience of such intense and enormous joy, that from then on I was much more excited about going to heaven and not so concerned with the details.
My brother and I were traveling together and the experience was so overwhelming that we each simultaneously asked God to stop it for fear we would actually explode. I won’t go into much detail, because I think these experiences come about differently for everyone. We both experienced a moment of great clarity in which we felt, saw, heard and were a part of a crowd around Jesus singing praise in the presence of God. After sharing with one another, we decided that what we had each experienced was very similar, but also realized that there was no way to measure or compare. We both experienced as much joy as we were each able to bear at that point in our lives. So, whether it was an ocean of joy or a cup of joy simply didn’t matter.
Over the forty plus years since then, I have come to believe that the capacity for experiencing joy and the capacity for accepting suffering are linked. I don’t know if there is a cause and effect relationship or just some sort of spiritual law of balance. My instinct says that joy is the grace that gives us the freedom to accept heart break without dulling the pain through anger or depression or an addiction (even one to doing good or working constantly.) But my experience also has been that in accepting the painful darkness of sorrow, I find the peace that passes understanding. And that peace is quiet joy.
As the psalm says, “But then comes the morning, yesterdays sorrows behind.”
Equally Offensive to All Religions by a Born Again, Baptized in the Spirit, Catholic Mystic, Liberal Presbyterian, Humanitarian Heretic, Loved – though Imperfect – Child of God
Wake up religions! This is not about you. This is about God being in imperfect human lives, all human lives.
No religion has a monopoly on God and no religious institution controls grace.
It’s not about spiritual country clubs, spiritual insurance policies or power.
It’s about human grace filled spiritual encounters with a living God incarnate in every moment, every place, every relationship, every stranger, every struggle, every person.
The church is called to awaken us to them, to pray for us and others to experience them, to encourage and support us in our spiritual journey and to celebrate our encounters of grace with us. But that is all.
Religions are actually obscuring God under their religious baskets by claiming the power to limit and control the human experience of grace. And religions are wasting their gifts by crying out against others instead of shouting out the good news of grace.
Institutions can: tell the world they believe in God; be a witness to the reality of a personal relationship with God through their own love of ALL the children of God; share, nourish, and celebrate others’ relationships with God and one another.
But institutions cannot create, control, deny, or teaspoon grace out according to their own current interpretations of any particular holy writings. That is Hubris, with a capital H.
Religions: Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, etc. etc. etc., YOU ARE NOT GOD. Get over yourselves.
God is bigger than your bread boxes, bigger than your temples, cathedrals, mosques, holy mountains or holy places, bigger than any nation, bigger than any person’s or group’s limited human understanding of any holy writings or rules.
ALL see through the glass darkly. Religions are like the three blind men who each pictured the whole elephant by the small part they personally encountered. None of us has the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because we are NOT God. We are not even close approximations. We do the best we can and seek the grace to do better, but the more we listen to one another, the better our chance of actually recognizing God among us.
The Sacraments are the grace incarnated in our daily lives and our relationships.
The institutional church is there to call us: to recognize, experience and respond to the grace in our lives; to share it with each other; to celebrate it together.
The church celebrations are not the sacraments. God is the sacrament and God just IS. That’s why God’s name is I AM.
IN our tiny imperfect daily lives,
IN our tiny imperfect selves,
IN our relationships,
IN our natural world,
IN the universes and beyond.
IN people and communities witnessing to faith in a God of love/forgiveness through both declaring it and living it (declaring faith and living it are inseparable),
IN individuals, families and communities recognizing the presence of God IN the sharing of our daily bread with others,
IN our responding to the gift of faith by seeking to be pruned and filled by God’s Spirit within us,
IN an ongoing circle of experiencing God’s forgiveness and forgiving others,
IN our acknowledgement of most humans’ need for the grace found in the intimacy of marriage (in the challenge of learning to love another imperfect human being “up close and personal” in a relationship of commitment).
IN witnessing to our faith in the power of God to heal through acknowledging our own need for spiritual and physical healing by both asking others for prayer and by praying for others and being willing to be healed.
Our daily personal encounters with grace are acknowledged in our communal Sacraments: God incarnate in both our personal and communal lives, in our ongoing human need to be forgiven and to forgive, and in our relationships with one another and our world.
To sum up, the heart of the spiritual life is a personal journey of recognizing our human weakness, learning we are loved unconditionally and responding by growing ever more loving of others in the same way. And the heart of unconditional love is forgiveness. No one is perfect. Everyone needs forgiveness and new beginnings all their lives. Truly accepting forgiveness and forgiving others are inseparable. Forgiveness and love are interdependent. You don’t get or give one without the other.
True religion begins with spirituality, which is a personal relationship with God of experiencing being forgiven and loved, so we too can learn to forgive and love. Then and only then does it become communal. If our faith communities are not made up of people with a humble personal relationship with God based on our ongoing needing and receiving forgiveness, our faith communities will become legalistic, judgmental, unforgiving, worldly, about pride and power, and then conflict ridden.
Each day we are called to open our hearts and minds to God, to find God’s grace in : a first cup of coffee, morning birdsong and sunlight, star filled skies, storms, fear, beauty, a tearful child, a faithful pet, sharing our daily bread, our own and others’ brokenness, sorrow, joy, forgiving, laughter, loss, love, in every moment, every human experience, every human relationship, in every human being.