Friday, September 11, 2009

Leaving The Path Behind

Living a religious or spiritual life is often compared to taking a path. The destination is often a peaceful, joyous afterlife, where “real life” begins after this temporary, earthly existence. But before getting there, we walk the path, accomplishing necessary tasks along the way. For evangelical Christians – I’ll speak of this particular religion due to experience – the start of the journey is critical and happens when a person makes a decision to believe that they’re a sinner and that they need Jesus to forgive them of their sins in order to be acceptable to God. After this is done, other tasks along the journey may include getting baptized, trying to share their faith with other friends who are not on the path, and reading books in order to find out how to walk the path more accurately. Prayers are prayed, sermon notes are jotted down.

And this is all quite fulfilling to a great deal of people; it provides meaning to their existence. I truly realize this, and am reminded tonight of the quote, “Religion doesn’t work because it’s true, it’s true because it works.” So for the countless throngs for whom this pathway works, I have an increasingly deep and genuine appreciation for that fact and am happy for you.

But for many others, any kind of path that one must follow is much more like a maze that is far too exhausting to navigate. They wonder if they are walking too slowly or too quickly, if they should turn left or right. Energy is spent trying to find the right book or tool. If they become unhappy or unfulfilled they sometimes will chalk it up to themselves, that they must be straying from the path, or not having enough faith. This can get all the more confusing when you have countless varying groups claiming to hold the secret to walking the path more accurately than anyone else. Recently a Christian pastor told me of another minister, who, in referring to their particular denomination, remarked that of the many varying denominations, it “most closely resembled how the church was in Jesus’ day.” Have you heard of anything more ridiculous? I have a strong aversion to the over-used acronym “LOL,” but…LOL!!! (I will not, however, be rolling on whichever floor that people roll on in times such as this. I draw the line there.)

But back to the pathway to God.

In my humble opinion, there is no path.

The path may very well be something that has been constructed over the course of human history because of humanity’s fear of the unknown. I tend to agree with John Shelby Spong when he writes that humans were confronted with powerful forces which they felt they had no control over, such as wind and fire. Over time they came to believe that god(s) held control over these powers, and if only they could figure out how to please these gods, or follow the right path, they’d be a-ok. And if you want to be cynical, there’s a fair amount of importance and prestige to be gained by religious leaders who claim to know the right way to walk the path.

Another thought is that while walking a set path may seem to provide some comfort and safety – and safety to a great degree is really so very wonderful – is that what we really want? Maybe. But maybe we also want wildness, and passion that does not “follow a path.” Maybe to find this passion that we ache for, we have to let go of the idea of a path. Anyways…

There is no real path which we must follow. For those people who have struggled to walk the path, only for it to become an exhausting maze, hopefully something will happen for them to realize that they don’t have to be caught up in it any longer. It can vanish before your very eyes.

And that is the key. To learn to see with your own eyes and to trust them. This requires a decisive step to say goodbye to the false assumption that humanity – and you – are essentially flawed or in need of something or someone to make you better or good. It’s all up to you. We can take the steps that are uniquely ours to take. What are the passions inside of you that are waiting to be lived out? What are the gifts inside that are just waiting to be born into the world?

There is no path.

But don’t take my word for it. Take yours.