Am I a Christian?
Yes, I grew up in a very Christian home, a German Lutheran home, a Missouri Synod Lutheran home. So Christianity was all around me my entire life. But am I innately in my eternal essence Christian? And what, exactly, would “being Christian” mean.
I have to admit that to dare ask this question of myself sends shivers down my spine. I have been so steeped in this heritage that to even dare posit the question is to risk ridicule and worse, even damnation to Hell, if I follow my tradition’s teachings. Yet I have to ask this question, just like the Swan had to ask if it was a duckling.
Two resources have come together to focus this question for me. One is Goodenough’s book I mentioned in the preceding two posts, and the other is William James’s century-old Varieties of Religious Experiences. From Goodenough’s work I was drawn to see how each of us is unique in so many ways, and this aligns with Jame’s work, pointing out the need to be who we are, unique individuals.
Now this can mean to be a painter or a writer or a plumber or a photographer or whatever inspires us from the inside. But does this not apply also to our personal religion? Our personal spirituality? Is not our true personal religion that which inspires and enlivens us, firing our enthusiasm and enjoyment in living? James would say that love, for example, arising from our Soul’s depths inspires us, makes us feel good and purposeful in living. This brings us to a natural love: we love because love brings us our deepest joy and sense of meaning and fulfillment. We would never get this sense from robbing banks or going to war. So in its purest expression, we love because it feels good, not because a God commands us to on threat of hellfire and damnation if we don’t.
My head is spinning. This is exactly what Pathwork teaches us in contrasting benign and vicious circles in our lives. When we follow our inner divinity a benign (seeking our wellbeing) cycle begins. Love begets more love and more love, ever expanding. And hate begets more hate and more hate. But the hate does not go on forever — it burns itself out in the misery it creates within us. In contrast benign cycles, of love for example, expand and increase indefinitely. And in this understanding I feel my heart leap with joy. I totally resonate with this Pathwork teaching. And smile to see it present in James’ masterpiece as well.
In contrast, I simply do not seem, for whatever reason, to resonate with the traditional Christian message about Jesus dying for my sins so that I, “a poor miserable sinner” (according to my Lutheran liturgy), can get into heaven when I die. So if this is the core of Christianity, then I guess I am not a Christian.
During the Journal-writing retreat last week I came to this exact point. The question on the table was, “What connects me to a reality beyond myself?” What gives me this experience of connection. Here is what I wrote:
Dropping dogma, not concerning myself any longer with the constantly perplexing need to reconcile myself to my Christian roots, and to Jesus Christ, to adopting particular spiritual practices or beliefs or frameworks for understanding the Cosmos and my life in it seem key to come into an authentic experience of connection to something greater than myself.
If a dogmatic belief system does not give me this experience, what does connect me to something greater than myself? I realize that the first thing that comes to mind is Nature, and for me the particularities of nature: wildflowers — beholding the pale blue chicory flower, or the complexity and utter orangeness of the butterfly weed, the amazing unfolding of the common dandelion, the amazing four-generation birth, transformation, death cycle of the monarch butterfly as, in its fourth generation, it traverses thousands of miles to a home it has never seen. With these I am in awe. In resonating with these I feel connected to a reality greater than myself. Indeed!
Yet this reality is not beyond myself, for I feel at one with this unfolding, this grand timeless Mystery.
As I say this, I feel chunks of dogma fall off me, like an eggshell cracking. No, that’s not a big enough scale. The armoring of dogma is much much thicker than an eggshell. Whatever this heavy armor of dogma is, I feel it cracking and falling to the floor around me!
I am drawn to the Mystery of the Cosmos, not to naming stars and galaxies in the night sky but rather to the Grand Mystery forever beyond my Knowing, except from a felt sense arising from within, from a deeper level of consciousness.
I am still drawn to the esoteric wisdom contained in the Pathwork material, but certainly not as rigid dogma. Rather in a way that stretches my consciousness inside and outside, a framework of frameworks that for me can hold and allow the Mystery of ALL that is.
This is what I wrote, and it still takes my breath away. All of this seems like a breakthrough, an inspiring breakthrough. Perhaps a transformation? In dropping all my Christian upbringing perhaps a more authentic Christianity, if it is there at all, can arise from within. I welcome a Jesus Christ into my life, but not one crafted in ecclesiastical dogma. Let whoever Jesus is speak to and engage my Soul. Yes. That Christianity, if it came upon me, would be indeed be welcome, because it, like Nature, like beauty, like music, will awaken and stir my Soul’s Joy. Amen.
God bless us all. Love, Gary