The Quest for Spiritual Life.

Posted: August 17, 2021 in Uncategorized

The Quest for Spiritual Life.

Last week we looked briefly at communion, community and things common as the bread of life and this week we continue the theme by looking a little more closely at that which we call Spirituality. This week I suspect those of us with some Celtic in our heritage will enjoy the meandering.

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It is said that in the Celtic spiritual tradition, pilgrims often draw a circle around themselves
before embarking on a journey. Initially standing still, the pilgrim points her finger outward, and then rotates in a clockwise direction until she completes the circle. Noy wanting to evaluate this I wonder if most of us do this in some ritual form of preparation for leaving home, some sort of list of things to do before we leave. We don’t think of it as a spiritual exercise but maybe it is?

Again, in the Celtic tradition what is called a circling a prayer is often said and Bruce Epperly offers the following as a contemporary circling prayer;

God protect me on this journey.
Surround me, whether I walk, drive, or fly.
Fill my heart and mind with surprising possibilities.
Remind me that I am always in the circle of your love.
Remind me this day, O Holy Adventure, 
that your inspiration guides me in every situation.
Open my eyes to your presence in each meal,
as I turn on my computer,
as I start my car.
Awaken me to possibility and wonder.
Energize me to love and embrace all I meet.  (Epperly 2005:80)
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This practice of faith, the ‘caim’ or ‘encircling’, reminds the traveler that God surrounds him wherever he goes. “While we recognize that life is filled with risks and that faith cannot protect us from every threat, We also recognize that God is present as a force for wholeness and reconciliation in every situation” (Epperly 2005:80).

Today’s biblical stories, I think are opportunities for us to explore what we mean by personhood and divinity and thus are about spirituality. A Spirituality that is the experience of living in the moment of human interactions that are bristling with virtues and values..

The Psalms as reconstructed by Francis Macnab, and from the gospel sermon-story by a bloke we call John, we continue to reflect on God’s present-ness in the world, and in our lives. Francis Macnab, theologian and psychologist, in his presentation of Psalm 84, that we read as our contemporary reading today attempts to get into the mind and the experience of the writer
to see if he can discover or reasonable assume “what was bothering this philosopher of life, and what let him to say what he said” (Macnab 2006:ix).

Steven Prasinos; I think puts this another way when looking through the lens of psychology sees religious experience as a reality that is part of consciousness. We embody this reality as ‘subjective energy field’ that exists within us and around us. A living, unseen, subjective field that flows and vibrates, And within that subjective dimension is meaning, or significance, what matters, what motivates, and emerges into an experiential field. We are ceaselessly operating within meaning structures or as I might put it a serendipitous creativity. John in his theme of living bread explores this also.

What Macnab says he discovered is this. He says;: “I found [the writer] was emphatically and repetitively proclaiming a fairly revolutionary view of the world, creation, his beliefs about God, humanity, the human spirit and human potential. Again and again I found his psychology had long pre-empted our current psychological explorations and research on happiness, optimism, the positive human emotions, and the sense of awe and wonder” (Macnab 2006:ix).

Listen again to some of how Macnab tells Psalm 84:

O God, from my place in the working world,
and in the wide wilderness of life,
I long for that sure sense of knowing what it is all about.

I yearn for that experience of joy
to come to my whole body and soul.

I look for your presence as a pathway to life’s fullness (Macnab 2006).

He goes on to say: Though we are often wounded and hurt in this fractured world,
we discover that this world also has its source of healing. We are all enriched and our hearts are made stronger as we tap into that power that flows into us. The very sight of a spring of water
arouses our anticipation of being refreshed and renewed. From all our external involvements,
we hear the call of our inner spirits(Macnab 2006).

And then in the words of his tradition he says: God – you stand in front of us when we fear the future. In our dark times you bring the sun to shine again. Out of our troubles you point us
to the pathway of our best bliss. And as we receive: we are rich indeed!(Macnab 2006).

It seems to me that what the Psalmist is suggesting, is that we are to experience the divine centre in yourselves. In our bodies. In our actions. In our everyday lives.

As a progressive Christian I want to agree with that. but it’s a bit of a different situation when we come to John’s sermon-story. We’ve been wrestling with his concepts on and off for several weeks now. We’ve struggled with the language and the images.

The problem is that now, as a progressive Christian, I want to challenge John, and reject his apparent denial of the ‘flesh’ or ‘body’ as useless. Somehow I am not comfortable with this rejection of what is after all  a wonderfully created creature. Somehow I think we can do better than this.

I like a growing number of people want to support process theologian Bruce Epperly’s comments when he says: “we need to redeem such passages for our time and place.  We can affirm that the spirit gives life, but the life of the spirit is not just ‘spiritual’, it is also ‘embodied’ and ‘incarnational’ (Epperly/P&F web site-06).

Sure, John’s position has a long history. Some of it, as we have heard, dating back to the early Christian communities, whose theology seemed to prevent them “from seeing Jesus as a God-infused human being and convincing them rather to perceive him as a divine visitor who came from heaven” (Spong 2005:61).

And some of it as recent as the early 18th century when one, Charles Wesley, “penned his popular ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ which portrayed Jesus as not human at all, but one ‘veiled in flesh’…” (Spong 2005:61).

Wesley’s world and John’s world is dualistic. Our world is not. Or at least not as much. I touched on this last week also with my concerns about a fixation on dualisms. Life is not just black and white, right and wrong. So perhaps a richer understanding comes with the mystics from the past,
as well as from process theology in the present. Maybe God is in all things and all things are in God, rather than God being a supernatural miracle worker in the sky who can come (or doesn’t come) to our aid in times of need.

As a progressive Christian I want to own the former Epperly comment rather than the latter as a simple entry to a more comprehensive and complex way into the subject of the existence of God.  God in all things and all things in God. seems to me to be a more authentic approach.

Why” Because it is equally important for me is, that experience this creativity we name ‘God’,
routinely, quietly, mysteriously, and moving through life, our life. not as being but as essence insistence and purpose. This way in “is less like a hammer on the head than it is a gentle prod”, suggests Bruce Epperly again, “a tickle, sometimes as gentle as a feather, touching each moment into being” (Epperly/P&F Web site-2005).

And I want to remember that well into the twentieth century many people thought that the air was filled with spirits of the dead, angels, and demons. Most Christians though of the Spirit as a Ghost and it was only with the biblical translations that change it to the Holy Spirit rather than Holy Ghost that people began to shift.

Yes, we can affirm with John and Paul that the ‘spirit gives life’ It inspires personal creativity and transformation. It lures us to support the well-being of others. It challenges us to look beyond our own interests to an integration of our well-being and the well-being of the planet (Epperly, P&F web site 2006)

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The big challenge of today is the understanding of Spirit in a Covid rent world. W can accept that God is Spirit that humans are Spirit but the life of the spirit is not just ‘spiritual’. It is also ‘embodied’, even in the rough and tumble of our everyday world. The issue is that such an understanding is in the biblical stories but it is usually found in the less read pages of sacred text!

Bishop John Shelby Spong, has some wonderful words in one of his books, ‘The Sins of Scripture’ that might be helpful. He writes: “I experience God as the source of life calling me to live fully and thus to respect life in every form as embodying the holy. I experience God as the source of love calling me to love wastefully all that God has made, including the earth with its plants and animals. I experience God… as… calling me to be all that I can be and to affirm the sacred being of all that is” (Spong 2005:66).

Then the chapter concludes with these words: “We have looked upward for a God above the sky for centuries, but we now know that this infinite universe is empty of supernatural invasive deities.  We need to shift our vision to look within – at life, at love, at being” (Spong 2005: 66).

May it be so with us in all our living. Amen.

Notes:
John B. Cobb, Jr., Bruce G. Epperly, & Paul S. Nancarrow. 2005.  Call of the Spirit: Process Spirituality in a Relational World. Claremont. P&F Press.
Macnab, F. 2006.  A Fine Wind is Blowing. Psalms of the Bible in Words That Blow You Away. Richmond. Spectrum Publications.
Spong, J. S. 2005. The Sins of Scripture. Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. New York HarperSanFrancisco.

rexae74@gmail.com

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