Take Your Understanding of Church Teachings from Limiting to Life-Giving—& Free Your Faith to Flourish
"No longer sustained by easy answers, we may find ourselves standing before a three-pronged fork in the road: we can wander in the direction of conventional beliefs and practices, we can reject God and turn away from religion altogether, or we can embrace our uncertainty as an invitation to a more vital understanding of both God and religion." —from the Introduction
Do you describe yourself as "spiritual but not religious"? Whether young or old, church connected or not, are you spiritually restless for an authentic faith life but do not find conventional religious teachings pertinent to you?
This accessible guide to a meaningful spiritual life is a salve for your soul. It reinterprets traditional religious teachings central to the Christian faith—God, Jesus, faith, prayer, morality and more—in ways that connect with people who have outgrown the beliefs and devotional practices that once made sense to them. It helps you find new ways to understand and relate to traditional, narrowly defined Christian “truths” that honor their full spiritual power and scope, and opens your mind and heart to the full impact of Christian teachings.
|Publisher:||Turner Publishing Company|
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About the Author
Tom Stella, a former Catholic priest, is author of A Faith Worth Believing and The God Instinct. He is a hospice chaplain, visiting professor of religion at Colorado College, a retreat facilitator, spiritual director and cofounder of Soul Link, a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring spiritual seekers together.
Tom Stella is available to speak on the following topics:
- CPR for the Soul
- Living in the "I" of the Hurricane
- Thomas Merton: Guide for a Seeker's Soul
- A Community of Mystics: A New Old Way of Being Church
- Becoming Our True Self Again
- Meaning In the Madness
- Religion: Help or Hindrance on the Spiritual Path?
- A Spirituality for Men
The Rev. Canon Marianne Wells Borg is former canon pastor at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, and founding director of The Center for Spiritual Development, an outreach ministry engaging in Christian life in the twenty-first century.
Read an Excerpt
Finding God Beyond Religion
A Guide for Skeptics, Agnostics & Unorthodox Believers Inside & Outside the Church
By TOM STELLA
SKYLIGHT PATHS PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2013 Tom Stella
All rights reserved.
God Beyond Religion
Perhaps the greatest disaster of human history is one that happened to or within religion: that is the conceptual division between the holy and the world, the excerpting of the Creator from creation.
—Wendell Berry, A Continuous Harmony
The author of this epigraph is not only a writer but a farmer as well. Berry's books speak eloquently of the rural South, life on the land, and the spirituality of creation. His earthy understanding of the holiness of the simple life and of nature's ways is based on the belief that God is not apart from creation but one with it. For Berry, and for many who no longer fi nd meaning in the notion of God as a Supreme Being (theism), the Divine is now considered the ground, the spiritual humus, the nonmaterial and sacred stuff of which everything consists and in which everything exists and grows.
The Judging God
I first learned about God within the confines of traditional religion. It was there, in church and catechism classes, that I was given the message that "He" was someone somewhere else who would, from time to time and in response to fervent prayer, intervene on behalf of the righteous. The Holy and the world, the Creator and creation were not one but two.
This God is made in the image of humanity, with physical attributes usually thought to be male (complete with beard and booming voice); emotional attributes consisting of the extremes of love and anger, jealousy and mercy, and so on; and mental attributes usually considered to be a plan that must be discerned—God's will, or the "mind of God."
The God I encountered within religion was one who judged my every action and who made a judgment about the reward or punishment I would receive beyond this life. The notion of God as judge is present in the Bible, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures, where in Psalm 7:12 it states that God is a just judge who rebukes in anger every day. Mythologist Joseph Campbell claims that "people think of their God as having sentiments as we do, liking these people better than those, and having certain rules for their lives." I grew up believing that God only loved those who always kept the rules of religion, not those who, like me, did so inconsistently.
I have experienced in myself and have witnessed in others the limiting, debilitating, and sometimes paralyzing effect of the belief in God thus understood. I know many people who no longer believe that God is distant and punitive but who continue to fear God. One of those people, Charles, told me about a dream he had in which his father said that if he continued to misbehave, he would surely fall into sin. Charles then spoke about how critical and nonaffirming his father had been toward him and his siblings when they were young, and that he now realized that he had projected this negativity onto God, whom he felt he could never please.
The notion of God as a critical parent packs a powerful emotional charge, the freedom from which is often a gradual, hard-won, and lifelong process. It has taken me years of study, countless meetings with spiritual directors, and many hours of prayer to begin embracing God as personal rather than as a person, as a part of life rather than apart from it, and as compassionate rather than punitive. Liberation from the oppressive effects of a negative theism is not easily attained. Achieving this freedom requires learning how not to cede power to guilt and how to embrace a faith that is based on the conviction that the true God may not be the God about whom many of us first learned.
Discovering a Different God
In contrast to this, the God of Rumi's field, Dillard's path, and Berry's farm is not found within religion, but beyond it; that is, beyond the doctrines and dogmas, the creeds and claims that speak of God as a being separate from creation. To discover God beyond religion is to uncover God in the midst of life. In our groping, we may stumble upon the Holy in nature as well as in church. We sometimes hear the Sacred sounding through popular songs as well as religious hymns. We may be guided by God's word in novels and poetry as well as in scripture. And our souls may be renewed by immersion in our hobbies as well as through participation in devotional practices.
Those who grope along the "night-blind mesas and flayed hills" that make up the spiritual path not only search for God beyond religion but do so, Dillard claims, "with the goal of knowing the absolute"; that is, in the hope of experiencing God in the frayed fabric of life itself. For those of us who wander this path, God is found not only in the heavens but in the midst of our lives: here, where we live and work; here, in us and in others, Divinity lurks omnipresent. This is not a New Age concept but one that is age-old, for scripture states: "In God we live and move and exist" (Acts 17:28).
The notion that God is present in the nitty-gritty of life is also found in Celtic spirituality, which is characterized by earthiness and speaks of "thin places" where the omnipresence of God is experienced in a very real, tangible way. The Irish poet, philosopher, and scholar John O'Donohue articulates the essence of Celtic spirituality when he writes:
The Celtic mind was not burdened by dualism. It did not separate what belongs together.... The dualism that separates the visible from the invisible, time from eternity, the human from the divine, was totally alien to them."
The artist Pablo Picasso is credited with having said, "It takes a long time to become young!" Picasso had discovered that only after a long life filled with at least as many downs as ups and failures as successes could one become not only wise but, like a child, truly innocent and free. Paradoxically, I was not young enough to know or experience the full meaning and liberating ramifications of the word omnipresent when I first heard it, but as I've grown "younger" through the years, I have come to realize its radical breadth and depth. God is not someone who has mastered the art of bilocation; rather, God is a word that refers to the sacred mystery that is the spiritual essence of all creation. In support of this notion, theologian Michael Himes claims, "The word 'God' functions like x in algebra. It is a stand-in for the ... absolute mystery which grounds and supports all that exists."
Perhaps it is the child in us that knows the simple yet mind-boggling truth of God's omnipresence. This is what Jesus seems to indicate when, in addressing his followers, he said: "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children" (Matthew 11:25). To posit that God is the omnipresent Ground of our being, a notion put forth by theologian Paul Tillich and popularized by Bishop John A. T. Robinson in his classic work Honest to God, is not an advanced theory that only the learned and clever can comprehend, but an attempt to move beyond the limits of conceptualization by affirming with childlike wonder that the reality of God is not spatial but spiritual.
No theological words or concepts, no religious gestures or rituals, are sufficient to express this mystery. I was reminded of this by a nun for whom I serve as a spiritual director. A woman who has grown younger throughout her fifty-plus years in the convent, Sister Miriam stated that one day, while making the sign of the cross (touching her forehead, chest, and both shoulders while saying "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit"), she had this childlike thought: "It's too small." Even the concept of the Trinity, about which tomes have been written, had become too confining for her experience of the infinite and intimate nature of God. As feeble as our attempts may be, the need to give expression both in word and gesture to our experience of the Divine is a powerful and positive instinct; however, it is important to remember that when we try to name the unnameable, we often end up limiting the limitless.
When I was first exposed to the idea of God beyond religion, I found it not only eye-opening but, in a sense, heartbreaking as well. I had had a relationship with God that was far more than a matter of belief, because I spoke to God, I sought solace in God, and I felt that, along with being protected, I was both known and loved by God. Although I now experience God's presence in a way that is more mysterious and yet more personal than was the case in my youth, letting go of the belief that God is an actual person has precipitated a process of grieving that, years later, I continue to feel from time to time. I still miss the old guy!
But just as it is necessary to exhale in order to inhale, I have found that, without letting go of my early notions of God, there could be no room in me for a new and more expansive understanding of Divinity or for the liberating way of life that flows from it—one that is free from the fear of a punitive God and free for an experience of God in the nitty-gritty of everyday life and relationships.
Excerpted from Finding God Beyond Religion by TOM STELLA. Copyright © 2013 Tom Stella. Excerpted by permission of SKYLIGHT PATHS PUBLISHING.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. God Beyond Religion 1
2. What Becomes of Prayer If There Is No God? 13
3. From Belief to Faith 27
4. Jesus: The Way, or in the Way? 39
5. Why Didn't Someone Tell Me I'm a Mystic? 51
6. Inspiration Is Not Dictation 65
7. Morality As Right Relationship 77
8. What Problem of Evil? 89
9. Church with a Mission, Mission with a Church 103
Epilogue: A Spiritual Epoch on the Rise 115
Suggestions for Further Reading 125
What People are Saying About This
"Essential reading for all spiritual seekersand for all of us who live with big questions! Issues a compelling invitation for us to examine and enlarge our understanding of God and how we are of God. Highly recommended."
"A remarkably clear distillation of wisdom about what it means to be Christian in the twenty-first century."
"Saves a new searcher many years of wandering, and reminds a fellow-traveler of the crucial insights from major spiritual stars, adding oneStella himself."
"Stella shares the fruit of a lifetime's spiritual evolution and experience as he freshly interprets nine central dimensions of Christian faith. Many readers will find him a wise spiritual friend.... Highly recommended for seekers of a mature faith and spiritual community."
"Profound and personal ... challenges our familiar yet often unsatisfying approaches to prayer and belief, and moves beyond to the very heart of the divine experience. You need not agree with everything within to be able to answer this call to awaken and embrace the passionate spiritual life."
"[Offers] the best insights of the most thoughtful theologians, poets and mystics.... Catholic Christians, take heart. Here's a book to vitalize faith. Protestants, secularists and persons put off by religion-as-usual, welcome."