Since we’re going to talk a bit today about religion, I thought I’d use a pretty picture here of what my good friend Melissa calls “Biblical clouds”:
Earlier this week, my husband sent me this link to an article in USA TODAY, knowing I’d be keen to read it. You should probably read it, too. Go ahead…I’ll wait for you.
I love how the article describes people as exploring “spiritual frontiers.” To me, this is an incredibly apt descriptor, and I see it all the time as a minister at my own church. Folks often come to a Spiritualist church because they’re curious about mediumship and spirit messages, and they want to see if the wacky psychics on the platform during the service will be able to connect with them. Hopefully, by the time they leave, they have a little more respect for and understanding of what we believe as Spiritualists. But over the last 9 years as a minister in a church, I’ve seen more and more turnover, and more people really just “trying on” a spiritual practice to see if it works for them.
And you know what I think of this? I think it’s great.
This attitude would, of course, get me into a lot of trouble with more traditional pastors and ministers. Spiritualism is, by definition, a less-than-mainstream religion, one that some denominations don’t even take seriously as a legitimate religion. I’m not here today to argue the validity of my religion or to criticize people who don’t believe in it. What I find interesting is that, according to this article, more and more Americans are searching for a spiritual practice that fits into their lifestyle and their way of thinking. And I really support this because I don’t necessarily believe that Americans are looking for new religions, per se.
I think what Americans are seeking is a personal relationship with God, and they’re not finding it in the mainstream churches.
To many traditional ministers serving churches and congregations, this may appear to be a reflection of the decline of American values, the hedonism and selfishness of Americans, etc., etc. I would say in response: you’re wrong. I believe that more and more Americans really want to develop a personal relationship with Creator that is not contingent on how many times they attend church services or how much money they drop in the collection plate. Throughout our history, Americans have always been an intelligent, inventive bunch. Because of our inherent nature, we ask questions, and we strive to learn more. I believe the churches that survive into the future will be those that honor the personal struggles to connect with God that their members express. They’ll be the communities that support these individual searches for communion with God, and the ones that help those seeking Creator’s divine presence to understand how to keep that channel open and viable. They’ll be the ones that encourage their members to ask questions of God and to expect to receive answers. They’ll teach the members of their community that Creator is a real presence, not a story in a book or an intervention that happened thousands of years ago. These communities will help others to see that God is right here with us every day, and He manifests within each and every one of us. He is us.
Some critics would equate the decline in religiousness to laziness or a lack of dedication. I would argue, though, that to be a spiritual being, we must be dedicated and responsible. Just because we don’t go to church doesn’t mean that we live our lives without purpose and integrity. We don’t need to go to church every week to recognize the inner divinity of every living creature and to honor that divinity in our words, deeds, and thoughts about that part of creation. We don’t necessarily need our minister or pastor to read stories and explain to us what they mean. We can do this on our own and possibly draw even deeper, richer meaning from them. We need to stop relying on other people to tell us how to live our lives and get in touch with the hidden Source of all life within us, which will lead us in the right direction. We can certainly look to other great spiritual leaders and scripture writings to give us direction, but our ultimate guidance must come from within, which is how we are connected to God in the first place.
Having said that: church is about community. Belonging to a group of like-minded individuals is imperative to some of us, especially during times of trial, pain, grief, and other heavy emotions. It is within these communities that we can truly show all sides of ourselves and share support with others. If we want these communities to grow stronger, we need to help each other connect to Inner Divinity as well as teach all to recognize and respect this beautiful quality in every person. Being a true part of a community takes time, effort, and sincere commitment. But these help us to grow as spiritual individuals, and as we utilize these attributes, we understand how important they are to us as evolving beings.
So…I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Do you think that religion has a chance to continue in this country? How do you feel about religion or churches/communities in your own life? Do you need this? Feel free to leave a comment.
I bid you all Namaste on this lovely Friday: the Divine within me honors the Divine within you.