Friday, May 2, 2008

My Spiritual Journey

As published in the May edition of
The Australian Christian

Why was the God of the Old Testament so different to the God of the New Testament? And why is the church not as accepting of the minority groups as Jesus was? And what about all those people who never heard about Jesus – are they going to hell because they were not in the right place at the right time? And what about Gandhi who admired Jesus and used similar principles to Jesus, but did not believe in Jesus as Messiah? And what about all those people born before Jesus – are they all going to end up in hell too?

These are the type of questions that worried me sick! I’d think about the responsibility I somehow seemed to be burdened with by God to preach to my friends and family. The notion that whether I did a good enough job or not in preaching to them meant they’d end up in heaven or hell! It truly made me feel physically ill!

Yet my love for God, and Jesus, and the Bible was intrinsically deep within me. I got my strength and my passion for life from those sources yet, simultaneously I suppressed the alleged responsibility for my loved ones’ salvation.

I was warned that it was a very dangerous thing to go to theological college. They are very liberal there you know! So I attended with a full complement of protection around me. At every instance where the theology of the lecturer began to conflict with my understanding of the Truth, I counter attacked with debate and Scriptural references. Some subjects such as Church History didn’t clash with my solid and perfectly boxed Theology and Christology, however most other subjects did.

I think the subject that changed my understanding most was studying the Scriptures in their original Greek language. My whole world began to crumble. Who was this God? Who was this Jesus? Who was I in all this?

Over the three year period when I was studying full-time, a whole new open-ended expression of God began to emerge. My theology changed from a God who was supreme judge, watching me at every moment to catch me out – especially when I didn’t take the opportunity to evangelise to my neighbours, friends or family; to a God whose love penetrates every person, every creature, every plant, and every mineral. I went from the anthropology of Original Sin to Original Blessing – that we are a blessing and sure we may mess up sometimes, but primarily God rejoices over us rather than condemns us. My understanding of God’s grace didn’t change, always being aware of God’s unfailing love, but before I still subconsciously felt that it was conditional on my behaviour, although it was always stated that God’s love was unconditional, there seemed to be fine print attached to it somewhere.

So after years of full-time theological studies, 2 years training as a Spiritual Director and being ½ way through a Master’s degree, where do I find myself now? I find myself excited and totally amazed by the grace of God - a grace that challenges us to be authentic in our journey; a grace that is with us in the muck and mire of life but also in the celebration and the festivities. I have discovered that God actually loves the real, warts-and-all Linda. Not just the Linda who tries hard to please; or the Linda who follows regular disciplines like communal worship and prayer; but the raw, sometimes uncultured, sometimes intuitive Linda.

I have tried to articulate it this way; every one of us has a unique heart-song that is sung in the depths of our inner being. It is not anyone else’s and although it is totally unique, it often harmonizes beautifully with the songs of others. It is totally the essence of you. It is underneath the ego, which often tries to protect it, (sometimes by using harsh amplification and sometimes by muting its true sound), however, it is truly the part of you that is created in God’s image.

Some groups of people may try to make our song fit with the corporate song of their organizations, and although there may be some parts of their tune that you do resonate with ours, the danger is that the group may drown out your unique sound which may not have the same timing as their song.

Some organizations say if your song doesn’t fit with ours, then your out! Maybe it’s to do with your sexual preference or your cultural norms, but in some places such phrases are not acceptable and such musicians are rejected from the band!

I believe that Jesus’ message was clearly about listening to the heart-songs of those who he journeyed with. He listened to the cry of the sick and the needy. He even knew the anguish of a poor woman who had been bleeding for 12 years – not through her words, but by the way she touched his robe!

Does this mean that all things are acceptable and everything is OK? No! Some actions hurt and disempower others and they are not harmonious and they cause dissonance and disconnectedness. To such people or organizations Jesus would speak their actions back to them, in hope that being touched by the light the darkness would diminish. He spoke most sternly to the religious leaders of his day, more than anyone else, pointing out their inconsistencies and heresies. However to individuals he got along side of them, listened to their stories and pointed a way back to harmony.

So where does this leave me now? It leaves me with a deep desire to journey with people in a way that gives them permission to express their true heart-song – that is whatever is authentic for them. A song that is not bound by peer pressure or by towing corporate line, but one that is in total resonance with its Creator. As I travel with so many people from different walks of life this is the consistent theme that presents over and over again. How can one offer friendship when they have never been truly befriended for who they really are? How can one offer forgiveness when he or she carries around so much self resentment and guilt of their own? How can we expect to live in peace when there is an internal war going on between the self that we think we should be and the self that we really are?

I may be naive, but I believe that as individuals begin to live in this space of self love and respect, allowing their true heart-song to sing, the world will actually be a better place to live! It is my desire and my passion to journey with people as they explore this eventuality. This is not some new philosophy by any means. In fact Jesus himself said, “Love your neighbour as yourself”. We’ve tried loving our neighbour first and it hasn’t worked. Loving ourselves is step 1, but the preparatory step is trusting that there is a force bigger than all of us whose desire is that we all be at peace and in loving harmony with each other - to trust that the Source did create us individually as extremely wonderful and unique being - that together we can all make up a magnificent orchestral symphony, with its incredibly interwoven textures of sound; high notes and low notes, loud and soft, whispers and shouts and through, above, below and in the midst of all that, we will find God who desires us to be truly authentic to our core-being. Perhaps the questions that can cloud the mind could be put aside for a time, to allow God to speak of them, directly to our inner being. And in that space, in partnership with God, our heart-song can sing the most beautiful song it can to the world.

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