#sermon I should’ve been a Desert Father
by Jim Morgan
The time has come for me to knuckle down and do what I know I should. For many years now I have run away from any serious attempts to explore my religious faith. Due to my history with religion most of the time I would simply prefer that religion went away.
My indolent self wants to travel down the fundamentalist/evangelical path. The engineers paved this path with ease. The evangelicals only require that one sit in a church service like a sponge once a week, pay some tithes, quit cussing and buy gaudy Christian trinkets at the local marketplace. Actions beyond saying a trite “I’ll be praying for you” or taking Bible verses out of context never made the evangelical’s to-do list.
However, I crave more than having a preacher say that I loved the church at my funeral. For more than 30 years my life consisted of Bible reading and memorization, church attendance, working on programs, preaching, teaching Sunday School classes, staying away from sin and sinners, and all the other effluvium of a good Christianity. These actions do not satisfy the seeker who resides in my soul. They amount to little more than people pleasing legalism. I would not classify any of these things as bad. I just classify them as acts, not necessarily spiritual acts or bad acts, just acts.
I did the acts. As they have many other people, the acts failed me.
While I practised evangelical Christianity I read a small book that Gary Thomas wrote called Spiritual Pathways. It opened my eyes to many things on my walk. I attempted to apply the lessons of the book to my life and live in a self-imposed paradigm that I felt would make me a better person. This may not have been the intention of Mr Thomas.
In the book Thomas outlined many differing ways to see God. I forget the entire list of different paths at this point but he mentioned:
- Naturalist: Naturalists Draw near to God through nature.
Sensate: Sensates draw near to God through the senses.
Traditionalist: Traditionalists draw near to God through ritual and symbol.
Ascetics: Ascetics draw near to God through solitude and simplicity.
Activists: Activists draw near to God through bringing about social change
Caregiver: Caregivers draw near to God through caring for and serving others.
Enthusiast: Enthusiasts draw near to God through celebration and mystery.
Contemplative: Contemplatives draw near to God through personal adoration and heartfelt devotion.
Intellectual: Intellectuals draw near to God through their minds.
I found no satisfaction here either. After some reflection I understood that it did not satisfy because I missed one big point: I wanted to work on me, i.e. make me a better person. I retained the central place in my heart and soul.
I can never satisfy.
I needed God. I still need God. I crave for God. Like the Psalmist says in Psalm 42 “…my heart panteth…” for God.
I don’t need a label. I don’t need a denomination. I don’t need a creed. I don’t need a ceremony…
I NEED GOD.
I want God to encircle me, wrap his arms around me, love me, care for me… I want to hear his voice and I want to feel his presence. I crave direct contact with the All-Mighty. I don’t want to read about it second hand from some book or hear about it on the radio. I want the God that one can not purchase from the local Christian bookstore. I want God’s fingerprints all over me. I want to smell like God does.
Some people draw close to God through the rituals and ecstasy. Most, if not all, churches follow this path. God did not wire me for this path. On the list of spiritual paths above I would classify myself as an ascetic-naturalist-intellectual. None of the institutional churches that I have ever attended have a place for me. Institutional churches provide the spiritual needs of many people, they make me uncomfortable.
Please hear me, I do not intend to offend anyone with these comments but I must speak from the heart. The institution that we call the church has failed to help me find God in any meaningful way. Sure it taught me doctrines and dogmas and has given me tons of antique songs to whistle and some pointless contemporary songs to dance to but it has not given me God. It has also not given me the means or knowledge on how to seek God.
My path lies down other avenues, like maybe monasticism.
Last week I spoke about God offering us a journey. I now begin this journey. My journey posits more questions than answers. It begins not with a long statement of “this Jim believes” but rather with a list of questions and a lot of navel-gazing. The Christian community may reject me. Many will not even understand me or my quest but a desire for God overpowers the innate desire desire of acceptance.
The journey begins with a simple statement: I believe in God and desire direct contact with God.
The journey for now will focus on seeking God in everything. Where does God work? Where does God live? How does God act? How does this all relate to me?
I shall practise mindfulness. I will pay close attention to the world around me. I inhabit this world. If God wants to communicate with me it must happen in the real world.
I will not resort to the trite and cliched answers of anyone’s religious ideology. I reject any label that one may think applies to me and I refuse to classify myself. If God transcends our world then surely God transcends our puny labels.
I will continue to live with good humour and try to seek peace, both for myself and other people.
I believe that I act the way I do because God wants me this way. Rather than seeking to change myself and feel guilty about myself I will learn to relish myself.