Monday, May 16, 2011

Belief Is Not the Same Thing as a Living Faith

Abraham Maslow contended that any adequate understanding of religious faith must take into consideration “peak experiences.” By peak experiences Maslow was referring to experiences of existential communion with an Ultimate Reality that transcends the limited self.

Mystics who have had such experiences have reported that they felt a deep, expansive sense of belonging to every other person and to all creation, where they could see the beauty and goodness of all things. The mystics of various religious traditions call this Reality different names: God, the Really Real, the Presence, Cosmic Christ, Spirit, Source of Life, Ultimate Reality, Ground of Being, etc.

The beliefs we use to describe this experience and Reality will always be inadequate. A living faith is the means by which we connect, commune, and cooperate with the Divine Spirit that is within every human being (we are all made in God’s image). Our beliefs are merely pointers, our human way of trying to grasp and explain it.

All genuine mystical encounter seems to move the individual or community toward a more inclusive worldview and acceptance. The mystics tell us that whenever we respond in love, whenever we share our resources and forgive and show mercy and stand with the downtrodden we step into the flow of the Divine Life.

I can’t think of anything more urgently needed today than this sense of mutual belonging with all humankind and with all creation. There are many religions and many belief systems, because the Unfathomable Mystery at the heart of life itself is beyond our grasp and understanding. Beliefs tend to divide us; but a living faith that enables us to experience the Unconditional Love that is gently guiding the universe in a non-coercive way has the power to unite us.

We might think of it this way: We are all in the River in a boat, the River being the Divine Spirit “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). There are many different kinds of boats with which to navigate the River and we are all in some kind of boat. The boat represents our belief system, our worldview, the way we see God and the world and our relationship to both. We all (even atheists) have some sort of belief system.

Some of us are navigating the river well. Others of us are bouncing off rocks, stuck in the mud, or running aground. Still others are fighting the river, trying to go against the flow. And then there are many who are asleep in their boats; they are not consciously aware that they are in a boat in the River.

At the heart of an inclusive Christian gospel is the deep conviction that all creation is God’s household and we are all God’s children. The Divine Spirit (the living, cosmic Christ) resides in each one of us. We are all in the River.

When our belief system is healthy, we are able to flow with the River. Our beliefs will help inspire, sustain, and grow a living faith (a dynamic trust) that keeps us in conscious communion and cooperation with God’s redemptive presence. I say “conscious” because we all are connected, we all are in the River, though many of us are not aware or awake to God’s redemptive presence.

When our belief system is unhealthy and toxic—fear-based, arrogant, and rooted in hate or prejudice—it will stifle, hinder, and impede a living faith. It will keep us spiritually stagnant, and perhaps make us spiritually repugnant to fair-minded people.

I long for the day when more Christians will embrace an inclusive gospel. For when that happens we will spend less time attempting to convert people to our way of thinking/believing and trying to get them to join our “chosen” group. And we will spend more time seeking peace, pursuing justice for the most vulnerable, practicing forgiveness, taking care of creation, and humbly serving one another. (For a more complete discussion of the dynamics of an inclusive gospel see my book, A Faith Worth Living.)

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