Friday, May 11, 2012

Salvation: Moving Together Toward Holy Beauty

"Though I have dedicated much of my adult life to the work of the church, there are some aspects of its life with which I am uncomfortable, the chief one being its certitude when a little doubt was in order. Nowhere is this certainty more present than when the church has spoken of salvation. We not only know who is saved - if not specifically, then at least theoretically - but we have refined the formula by which salvation happens and can replicate the exact scenario, as if God were a well-trained deity awaiting our command to fetch and heel.

My experience is otherwise. While I believe God delights in the divine/human intersection, it seldom happens predictably. I attend meeting for worship each Sunday, hoping to experience a moment of connection and many times have. But I have also left our meetinghouse feeling as if the hammer missed the anvil, that no spiritual sparks were generated. I don't believe God was playing hard to get or making herself absent so hour hearts would grove fonder. Rather, I believe like all moments of transcendent beauty, our experiences of salvation are unpredictable, not dependent on a set of theological laws, but more on timing, whimsy, sensitivity, and the intersection of random events. Let me offer an example.

Near my home is a meadow of wildflowers that I walk through several times a week the year round. Sometimes the meadow seems drab: the sky is overcast, the grasses and flowers bent and brown, the trees bare, and the air cold, damp, and uncomfortable. Other times the meadow is radiant: the flowers are in full bloom, the sky is blue, the temperature is ideal, and the sun is shining, striking the blossoms at an angle that makes them appear even more colorful and vibrant. A variety of factors - the sun, the plants, the time of day, the wind, the climate, the season - conspire to make that meadow a paradise.

While I cannot control those variables, I can place myself in a position so that I am more likely to experience their intersection. This is why I regularly and frequently visit the meadow, to increase my opportunities to witness such loveliness. When I speak of salvation as a paradox, this is what I mean. While we cannot demand that God be known to us at a specific time to bless us in a particular way, our opportunities to experience salvation, our chances of being wholly united with God, others, and creation rise as we "visit the meadow" or cultivate our sensitivity to God's presence.

What is the consequence of these encounters? What happens when we experience the Divine Presence? We are more adequately equipped to commit our hearts, souls, minds, and strength toward the divine purposes of growth and betterment, the growth and betterment not only of the self, but of others, indeed even the growth and betterment of our enemy.

This is why, even though I no longer believe some of the more traditional assertions of the church, I continue to participate in its life, just as I continue to visit the meadow. I want to be a witness to beauty. I want to expand my opportunities to encounter the Divine Presence. I want to feel more deeply connected with my fellow beings and be more a part of the surrounding creation.

I place myself among others, i walk the meadows, because I no longer want to be just an "I" but an "us" Perhaps this is what the monk had in mind when he was approached by a well-intentioned Christian who asked him if Jesus was his personal Savior. "No," the monk answered, "not my personal one. I've always preferred sharing him."

What if this were salvation, so that even as our hearts, souls, minds, and strength are growing, so are others'; all of us moving together toward holy beauty and perfection, transforming ourselves and delighting God? This is an evolved Christianity I could happily and wholeheartedly embrace."

~ Philip Gulley "The Evolution of Faith: How God Is Creating A Better Christianity" (2012)