I’ve been thinking a lot about an article I read in this month’s The Word, a publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, called “Orthodox Spirituality in an Ungodly Age.” Kevin Allen, who hosts a radio show called “Ancient Faith Today” on Ancient Faith Radio (and who has interacted with me a bit on this blog), wrote this article, and in it addresses three “Anti-Christian Trends” in our culture. The third one is
Questioning, reconsideration or challenging of tradition Christian doctrines by some who profess Christian faith (italics mine)
Well, that one hit the bulls eye. Yep, that’s me, I thought when I read it. I question. I reconsider. And maybe, I am starting to challenge.
I question whether or not the Orthodox Church is really THE only true and perfect church.
I question whether or not the Orthodox Church is right to forbid women to be clergy.
I question whether or not God really is all-knowing and all-powerful.
I question whether homosexuals can or can’t be Christians and should or should not be able to marry.
I question whether pre-marital sex is really a sin.
I question all the rules I live by and have always lived by, and if they are rules or if I am just interpreting them that way.
Allen talks about religion vs spirituality in the article, and how Americans are searching for spirituality, which is “focused on the way a person sees his own place in universe,” rather than religion, which is “concerned with God’s relationship with the universe.” (Italics mine) I get that. And I am guilty of wanting to be spiritual, but not religious. I want to fit in with my non-religious friends; most of them know I am spiritual, but I don’t want to appear to be a religious kook. I want to be able to look at my faith from a lens of doubt, and beauty, and art, and questioning, and passion, but I often feel like I’m only offered the lens of fear, guilt, and commands.
I believe in God; I believe that Jesus died and rose again to save me from sin, eternal death, and separation from Him (although really the three are synonymous to me). But lately I’ve been feeling like I’m tired of following the rules. Does Jesus really care whether or not I eat before Eucharist? Or whether or not I eat dairy? I don’t think He does. But I understand that these are manifestations of the Orthodox belief that spirit and body are not separate; I withhold things from my body as a spiritual practice in order to focus myself on Christ rather than on worldly things like . . um, food.
In his article, Allen warns that the term “spirituality” has become a synonym for self-help and self-love. It has come to mean that you can find God (or a god) within yourself; that you are God and God is you. I just read something similar to that in the book Dance of the Dissident Daughter, which says, “To embrace Goddess is simply to discover the Divine in yourself as powerfully and vividly feminine.” Can I admit that there is something deeply attractive about that line? I realize that I am NOT God (or Goddess) and am NOT divine, but oh, how I would love to discover that “powerfully and vividly feminine” spiritual part of me.
That may sound confusing; I’m female, so of course I’m feminine! Yet my spirituality has always depended on men, on male imagery and language. God the Father, Jesus the Son. My own father, who led me to accept Jesus into my heart at the altar of his church when I was six, my Uncle Mike from the mission field, all my male pastors and male youth pastors and male religion profs at college. Even the theologians and spiritual writers I’ve read through the years have been primarily men – Nouwen, Lewis, Chesterton, Hauerwas, Hopko, Schmemann. I have always lived in a Christian world, and the story of my God has almost always been defined by men.
She’s getting off topic, you’re thinking. She’s off on a feminist rage and needs to come back to the subject at hand. No, I am not enraged. Yes, I am addressing feminism. And I do so to say that right now, I am both spiritual – concerned about my own place in the universe (and in the church, and in my family, and in my community, and within myself) – and religious – concerned about God’s relationship with the universe. The fact that God created us and put on human skin to come down and save us is more important to me than whether or not God is male, or whether or not women should be priests.
However, I’m ready to meet God on my own terms. To me, spirituality is a deep awareness of one’s soul. What you find when you look inward. And if God is there, you will find Him. Spirituality involves opening your soul to receive the things that nourish and grow it. Surely I can find God in a poem, or in a blooming dogwood tree, or in my daughter’s fingers creating beautiful piano music? Can’t those things be givers of His grace? Can I find him in the words of a woman who once wrote for Guidepost, and now “lives by her own inner guidance?” Why can’t I find Him in the feminine, in the depths of my own womb, where life was created and brought forth, in the voices of the desert mothers, or in the lap of his own Mother, that baby boy Jesus, who in that moment embodies nothing but the pure and overpowering love of a son?
I realize the danger of the statement “meeting God on my own terms.” I understand that a Christian’s personal decisions and opinions should be corroborated by the church, or Christian tradition, or Scripture. Someone who murders someone and then says, “God told me to kill him” will obviously not be supported by the church or Scripture.
Still, I think about the fact that Paul offered salvation to Gentiles, who weren’t familiar with Jewish rules and traditions. They hadn’t been raised in a world of Jewish customs and teachings. They hadn’t been forced to go to the temple week after week or taught to read the Torah or forbidden to cook on the Sabbath. All it took was their willing belief, a turning of their hearts toward Christ. There is a purity to that kind of faith, one untouched by influence, unmotivated by years of religious culture.
Sometimes I feel like I need to walk away from the religious life I’ve always known so I can find God on my own, and then I’ll be able to come back.
For now, I keep questioning. And reconsidering. And challenging. And I hope that God and my church won’t see it as anti-Christian. I hope they’ll know that right now, this is my journey toward true faith, toward a place where spirituality and religion feel like one and the same.