Since I began my intentional spiritual journey in my early 20s, I have learned something crucial.
One size doesn’t fit all.
As someone who was born and bred in a highly conservative Catholic tradition, I was taught from an early age that everything was black and white. All we needed to know was laid out in the Baltimore Catechism and the Bible.
As I have grown into adulthood, I have learned life has many gray areas, and is complicated. Life’s myriad experiences aren’t always easily resolved.
In fact, here is a passage from the prophet Jeremiah 17:9-10, from the Old Testament.
More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?
I, the LORD, explore the mind and test the heart,
Giving to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their deeds.
Now, I personally believe in a Divine Source to all that is. I believe each of us have eternal souls uniquely and broadly created in the image of that Source.
Consider the complex human body and how all of its systems work together. To those of you who might ask “what about when something goes wrong, either in utero, or after birth, sometime in life?” That is a fair question, one to which I humbly admit I have no answer. Or, consider the intricate precision of mathematics and how its laws govern so much of the order in this world and outside of it. This world is full of contradictions and truths beyond our finite ability to explain.
In choosing to believe in a Higher Power, we must be humble enough to admit there are many things we just cannot answer. We cannot say how a “loving God” would allow the Holocaust. In my opinion, I don’t believe this Divine Being “causes” such tragedies and catastrophes, as much as those bearing that “tortuous human heart” do with their recklessness and carelessness. Still, I believe we can always find the presence of that Infinite Love in the midst of the chaos, weeping along with us, and moving people to reach out to one another in need. (In reference to the events of September 11, 2001, look up the thousands of stories of unexplainable intervention that day and in the days and weeks after).
Our personal views are affected by a million different things: the time and place we grew up; our education level; our marital status; our gender; our family situation; our job experience; our culture; our religious beliefs or lack thereof…every little interaction we have ever had in our lives has contributed to who we are today, and how we see the world.
I cannot expect everyone to see the world as I do. Nor should anyone expect me to see the world the same way they do. I am a single, middle-aged white woman, one who has been allowed many opportunities in life, that many others will never have. I have also endured my share of unique hardships, again, many of which most people could not understand, because they have not walked in my shoes.
Meanwhile, there are countless people out there who have married, raised children, divorced, been widowed, lost children, experienced the realities of drug addiction, and illness; lost their homes and their livelihoods; been refugees, homeless; lived in poverty; lived in wealth; lived in abusive situations…simply experienced life through a completely different lens than I have. None of us have the same experiences in life. None of us. Our lives are unique as our fingerprints. And these unique lives influence our unique perspectives.
Yet, despite all of this, we are called to live in compassion for all living beings. The word compassion means “to suffer with.”
Now, getting back to the various sacred texts of the world’s religions. As someone who believes in a divine order, I also believe there are certain Natural Laws weaved into our bodies, minds, souls, hearts and spirits by this Divine Source to guide us into living in love and peace as one human family, if we choose to follow them.
That is what Jesus of Nazareth, who some believe is the Messiah, and died for the world’s salvation; while others believe was a gifted enlightened teacher, lived and taught during his earthly life. Either way, I invite you to check out his Sermon on the Mount, or go and read his brilliant parables and how he healed people from the inside out, and ministered to people on the fringes of society – the people the religious professionals cast out and avoided.
Kind of how it is today.
As someone who believes in Jesus and his teachings, I look – not so much to religious dogma and rules – as to his love, which is the foundation of his peacemaking ministry, for guidance in how to live my life in love for the Source, myself and my neighbors.
Some people point out that Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the father except through me.” I wholeheartedly agree. But I ask, who are we to decide *how* Jesus decides to introduce every created human being to the Divine Source? How can we say he cannot reach out, through the infinite power of his Holy Spirit, to human beings in other traditions, or no tradition, who seek to live according to that law of love written in their hearts, and who recognize there is Something they cannot fully grasp that is bigger than them? Perhaps Jesus leads those to the Father by the way he lived his life, and the teachings he expounded, and his humble submission to death, even if they never hear his name mentioned in this lifetime. Maybe it is living Jesus and all he was, that we will come to know that Natural Law that is planted in our hearts, whether we call ourselves Christian or not.
•SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality in The Times' readership area. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at firstname.lastname@example.org to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.