We just spent a fantastic Good Friday at Balsam Lake attending a large (and delicious) blended-family supper. Easter is a time of rebirth and as we looked out over the lake, just reborn from its winter cover, we all imagined the good times ahead. It was a rebirth of relationships too and the weekend was one to remember. As I watched TV news at home Sunday evening there were a number of stories about Easter church services. It reminded me of Easter twenty-five years ago.
It was 1992 and my mother’s favourite hymn was constantly on my mind for months. ‘Just as I Am’ is about how we are all imperfect but God just loves us just as we are. I appreciated that message and started to wonder in earnest about who or what God was and if the Bible was indeed a book with ‘magic’ properties. Then a TV news story on that long ago Easter Sunday about church services somehow instilled a powerful compulsion in me. I had the realization that I had been wanted in church that day! God was prompting me to come find the answer. As the hymn says, “O Lamb of God, I come” so the very next day I set to work figuring out which church to attend.
I settled on Trinity United Church in Bobcaygeon, where we were living at the time. Because our family had some association with the United Church and this church seemed particularly enlightened by having a female Minister and a black African Minister, I felt it was the one for me. I attended the next Sunday and then every Sunday for years. I joined an adult baptism group which required weeks of study before baptism. That started my learning curve about God. It seemed that this particular church always came up with a study program at just the right time to advance my spiritual journey. First came a two year weekly study (one year Old Testament, one year New Testament) that was fairly rigorous and involved memory work and exams. When it ended, another two year course, sanctioned by the United Church itself, was offered that focused on preaching, ministry and creating meaningful services. At the conclusion the successful students attended a special ceremony where there was a laying-on of hands and we were charged to go out and preach the word. I was now one of the last of the lay-preachers in the church (they soon changed the title to lay-worship leader). Some of the students went on to ordained ministry but I didn’t choose that path.
After this point I really expanded my learning and studies. I read voraciously about all the different religious traditions, took seminars and attended wonderful retreats by the Sisters of St. Joseph at Mount St. Joseph, a Catholic convent in Peterborough. These very enlightened sisters also ran a series of Taize services and all of this together ultimately served to bring me as close to the vail that separates us from the Spirit as one can get.
Here is what I learned: On your journey you seem to go in a circle and finish where you started but you actually end on a higher plane of awareness of the Spirit. It’s like ascending a mountain by going around and around and around as you go up. After many circuits you enter a foggy patch where you wonder where you’re going and what it’s all about, but one day fog and clouds clear and you emerge into the bright sunlight that is the Spirit. My emergence came in a vivid dream (dare I say a vision) where I exited the fog and was standing atop a rocky mountain in the bright, warm sun that I knew was the presence of what I called, God. I looked around and saw other mountain tops with people standing on them too. They were Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Christian and others and I then knew the truth that there were many valid paths to finding the Spirit, which different cultures had different names for, but were all one in the same Spirit.
I came to see the Bible as an out-dated allegorical volume, from and for ages past, meant to teach the truths ancient humanity sought. I preached many times traditionally interpreting these old bible stories but now my theme was always love and forgiveness. I became bored flogging that same old theme and expanded my message to introduce how the bible was not a magic book written by ‘God’, but was a flawed collection of writings created by humans. I started to preach how all religions led to the same ‘God’, how humans were all alike and that ‘God’ was not an old gray-bearded man sitting on a throne on the clouds. People heard my words and even recognized their truth but preferred to live in the old child-story world they grew up with. Of course my license to preach wasn’t renewed and I amiably drifted away from church, but not from the Spirit. Each of us must undertake our own journey to know the Spirit and I was still on mine.
Easter 2017 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of my starting that journey and briefly, here is what I believe today: ‘God’ is unseen energy/being (spirit) that is beyond what we can actually understand or picture. ‘God’ is the Spirit that permeates all of physical creation as well as the dimension beyond time, where our spirit returns to upon death in this existence. When we die, our spirit migrates back to that dimension from whence it came and is once more in the Spirit in a place of unity and truth and peace. There is no heaven and there is no hell simply oneness in the Spirit. Our reason for being in this physical existence on this planet is so we can experience the wonderful, sensuous things this world offers. This has been summarized as our being spiritual creatures on a physical journey. We are a portion of the Spirit installed in a physical, sentient vehicle to enjoy this existence. Our human imperfection leads to the problems we experience (summarized in the Ten Commandments) which we must struggle to overcome in order maximize our pleasure in this amazing universe. Not overcoming means we don’t maximize the experience; there are no penalties. ‘God’ has no scorecard.
So, what is the meaning of life? Simply this: Love each other; practice forgiveness and enjoy existing in this wonderful garden.
Yours in the Zone
© 2017 David Jones