Our friends who are scientific, atheists or have no interest in religion make me think about what I believe about God and religion.
I am happy to call myself religious of the Christian Episcopalian persuasion. I have doubts and am open to discussion and examination of my faith, thinking and beliefs.
I call myself religious because I sense that there is so much in the people, the world and the universe that give me awe and wonder. I am breathless at the “vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses and this fragile earth, our island home” as our Book of Common Prayer reads.
All this stands before me and moves me. To repeat, I stand in “awe and wonder.” Men and women of science explore all aspects of this universe, the world and the people in it. Medicine and psychiatry delve into the intricacies of our bodies and minds. Physics, mathematics and computers help us understand the working of the world better. Astronomers lead us in exploring interstellar space. Governments and political science attempt to organize our political lives.
Religious people explore the holy, sacred or divine dimensions of life. They don’t get explored easily. Logic and reason can help. Religious perceptions are deeply personal.
Many religious people testify that they have had a personal encounter with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit or some force beyond them selves. Southern Baptists believe that this spiritual experience is necessary for salvation.
The Old and New Testaments of The Bible hold many stories of religious experience. Sometimes it happens in dreams or walking along a road or in the face of injustice. The Idea of the Holy by Rudolph Otto describes many reports of a Mysterium Tremens, a mystical experience described as holy, somehow connected to God or a divine source. I suggest that the proliferation of religion throughout the world is rooted in some kind of mystical experience.
True confession time. I am religious but have not ever had a Mysterium Tremens or mystical experience. I am religious because I always have been, I like going to church and am comforted by the Eucharist, the prayers of thanksgiving, the singing and community. I was brought up in a family that went to church on Sundays and said a prayer at dinner. My father was a priest. My parents read Bible stories to my brother and me. Going to church on Sundays was as natural and normal as eating breakfast. I am a follower of Jesus. I follow his call to care for the poor, the sick and those seeking justice.
People can be religious without a special mystical event or metaphysical illumination.
Here are several patterns:
You went to church as a child, gave it up in college, married and had a child and went back to church as the child grew.
You left the church of your childhood, then married a religious person and went to church with him or her.
You faced the death of a parent, spouse or child and found comfort again in religion.
Many men came back to church when diagnosed with HIV disease.
You, like me, always went to church.
You felt close to God or had a near mystical experience when you were out in nature, hearing great music, viewing great paintings or sculpture. I certainly felt powerfully moved when I fist saw Michelangelo’s David in Florence, Italy.
Visiting sacred spaces are very moving for many: St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, St. Peter’s in the Vatican, Notre Dame in Paris, the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.
Scads of people proudly proclaim they are spiritual but not religious (SBNR) I suspect spiritual is the word they use to separate from a religious path they now reject.
Sexual intercourse and sexual intimacy resulting in orgasm some regard as mystical. There is a sense of complete oneness with the other partner that is mysterious and touches the divine. In the sex act one is completely selfish and self-giving at the same moment. There is mutual joy.
Certain drugs produce what are called mystical experiences. LSD for some produces profound mental, physical and emotional experiences which the taker may describe as seeing God or having a sense of the divine.
Certain dancing like whirling and leaping can produce mystical states.
I promised to write about God. Recently, I was reading about metaphor. Joseph Campbell was asked if he believed in God. He responded, “I know a good metaphor when I see one.” I entered into a new way for me to think about God. I just can’t pray to the “ground of all being” and “God as being itself.” The philosophy and theology is fine. But how to pray? I now pray to God, the father. I wish I could say God the mother. That does not work for me. I wish it did. It will work for many other men and women.
God the father is personal, intimate, a being to whom I can pray. Father means creator, symbol of love and forgiveness. When I pray now to my God, I know God means so much more than a divine parent. But now I can pray to and worship a personal God, a metaphor for the “ground of all being.” I also am thankful that God has given me this gift of knowing God.
In liberal and scientific circles being religious is not popular and even frowned upon.
However, religion is alive and healthy and will always be with us and with our spirits.