One Common Faith ~ The Story – Part One

children_praying
In the last post I said, “I want to tell a story”.  I also said certain people wouldn’t like it…

I’m not sure right now how many posts it will take to tell the story. It starts in the dim past and soars into the unseeable future.

The story won’t have a lot of detail but it will have a lot of emotion. The beginning is my early time on our earth as well as the early time of our human family. It’s very easy to see the stages of an individual’s life mirroring the infancy, youth, adolescence, and maturity of humanity.

Before I launch into the beginnings, I want to give the links to a document and a site that explores the document—they’re the immediate stimulus to my needing to tell this story.

The document is One Common Faith—a deep and scholarly exploration of religion (that’s the reason some folks won’t like this story…).

The web site is Changeless Faith—dedicated to a multimedia learning process that dives into One Common Faith  and helps you connect with it in a personal way. {if you’re not the type of person who regularly reads deep scholarly documents, I’d recommend starting with the “Companion” part of the site rather than the “Document” part—you’ll get a simpler introduction to the concepts and appreciate the full document much more}

The Story

I was born in 1946 to two Christian ministers—mom and dad. I feel lucky to have had such an early introduction to serious religious life. I’ve felt conflicted about the deep problems I’ve had to struggle with to unravel the mystery of Who God really Is—mom and dad or the Ineffable, Unknowable Creator.

I think our earliest ancestors had a somewhat similar problem. The members of our human family who lived during our infancy had to struggle to co-exist with the powers they encountered and they developed various theories about a Power that ruled over those powers. Lightning or earthquakes are powers (so are mom and dad); why do they happen and what causes them? Later in the story, we’ll look at the scientific understanding of this issue but it won’t be easy to leave behind the ultimate Mystery about the Origin of our life and struggles in this earthly home…

I went to church four or five times a week. Our early ancestors worshiped in the constant cathedral of nature.

I trembled and uttered inner prayers that my soul wouldn’t be damned by my parents. Our earliest ancestors shouted and danced to appease the gods—inner and outer.

I asked my Sunday School teacher questions she couldn’t answer. They went to the medicine woman and were instructed to perform rites they weren’t expected to understand.

I mostly behaved but grew up to be quite impulsive and rebellious. They did what they had to do to survive and sometimes killed the members of other tribes.

To be continued…

Spiritual Quote :

“It is a great mistake to believe that because people are illiterate or live primitive lives, they are lacking in either intelligence or sensibility. On the contrary, they may well look on us with the evils of our civilization, with its moral corruption, its ruinous wars, its hypocrisy and conceit, as people who merit watching with both suspicion and contempt. We should meet them as equals, well-wishers, people who admire and respect their ancient descent, and who feel that they will be interested as we are in a living religion and not in the dead forms of [many] present-day churches.”
From letter written on behalf of Shoghí Effendí to the Comite Nacional de Ensenanza Bahá’í para los Indigenas de Sur America, September 21, 1951

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Youth and The Future of Faith

Deutsche Welle has a recent article, Religion Stronger Than Ever Among Global Youth, that reports on the results of a survey by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation that discovered, “Young people in developing countries and Islamic states are just as religious as adults… In Morocco, about 99 percent believe in God and life after death. Among Brazilians, Turks and Nigerians, 90 percent are believers and even in Israel, Indonesia and Italy, the rate is 80 percent.”

This is heartening news for those who feel religion is the premier guide for living on this earth.

For those who are suspicious of religion’s influence on culture and individual behavior, I present my own experience: born to two ministers—mom and dad; surrounded by plain folk trying their best to do what other folk claimed was what God desired. Knowing something was amiss when I got home and my ministerial father would turn cranky and treat my trusting mother like she mattered less than his automobile…

It took most of my 62 years (and many tragic mistakes) to work out the supreme conflict between my father’s religion and my mother’s faith. May God bless both their departed souls…

There are many movements afoot on our beloved earth trying to bring the Spirit back to the bleeding body of Religion. Many sincere people, meeting in each other’s homes or the local school auditorium or the woods—people trying to ignite the spirit that moved the earliest believers of our World’s Faiths—actually the One World Faith in God that has had many incarnations, many progressive Revelations of our Creator’s wisdom and guidance.

It’s just so sad when mere mortals get in the way of the flame of true faith, subvert it toward ends that serve egos more than souls…

Today’s quote is from a man, Head of a World Faith, who in 1926 called for just such a heart-deep, faith-fresh religious morality that could help youth avoid the worst options in a world gone insanely materialistic.

“…the dangers facing the modern youth are becoming increasingly grave, and call for immediate solution. But, as experience clearly shows, the remedy to this truly sad and perplexing situation is not to be found in traditional and ecclesiastical religion. The dogmatism of the church has been discarded once for all. What can control youth and save it from the pitfalls of the crass materialism of the age is the power of a genuine, constructive and living Faith… Religion, as in the past, is still the world’s sole hope, but not that form of religion which our ecclesiastical leaders strive vainly to preach. Divorced from true religion, morals lose their effectiveness and cease to guide and control man’s individual and social life. But when true religion is combined with true ethics, then moral progress becomes a possibility and not a mere ideal.

“The need of our modern youth is for such a type of ethics founded on pure religious faith. Not until these two are rightly combined and brought into full action can there be any hope for the future of the race.”

From a letter written on behalf of Shoghí Effendí to an individual believer, April 17, 1926, Bahá’í Youth, pp. 8-9 (Lights of Guidance, p. 630)


Transcending the Murmur

Today we have a treat !

Isabella Mori, psychotherapist and owner of the blog, Change Therapy, relates her spiritual insight . . .

~~~~~~~~~

In the late 90’s, early 2000’s, I was working in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Canada’s “poorest urban postal code”. I did outreach counselling and worked out of a number of places, one of them First United Church.

First United Church in Vancouver is a mission church – it focuses mostly on providing services to people who are extremely marginalized: morning soup for people who are homeless, foot care for people with disabilities, advocacy for single mothers, health care for survival sex trade workers, etc.

Now at First United Church they had this wonderful morning service. Right in the middle of people sleeping off their hangovers in the pews and drug users finding a moment’s quiet for their overwrought minds, each weekday morning at 8:45, a handful of people would congregate to sing, read a bible verse and reflect and pray together. It was the most beautiful thing – church, I believe, as intended by Jesus.

Almost right from the beginning of me working out of First United, every day I’d be there – usually Wednesday and Friday mornings – I’d make sure to participate in these services. I loved the songs and the little discussions around the readings, mostly from the bible, sometimes from some other religious material.

Towards the end of each service, we’d say the Lord’s Prayer, in different versions. I really enjoyed the Maori version. But when we said the “normal” version – I just didn’t want to say it. I had a real problem with it, particularly when it comes to “… and lead us not into temptation.” What do you mean, lead us not into temptation?? I imagined a God looking down at us thinking, hmmm, this Isabella down there, should I lead her into temptation today? That kind of God didn’t look at all palatable to me, and I wasn’t going to pray to him!

A few months into me participating in these services, the minister who usually led the service came up to me and said, “Listen, I’ve noticed you show up here every Wednesday. I’m going on vacation, it’s summer, most everyone else is on vacation, too – could you lead the service while I’m away?”

I was a bit flabbergasted but being the sport that I am I said, “Ah, sure, I guess.” But then I remembered: “Wait, I can’t do that! Haven’t you noticed how I never say the Lord’s Prayer?”

“No, I haven’t. I thought you liked the Maori Prayer.”

“I love it. But the other one, the usual version … “

“What about it?”

I explained to him my conundrum. (What a blessing, now that I think of it. I felt so comfortable with this guy that I had no problem telling him what I thought of this God who’s toying with me – “Should I lead her into temptation today? Shouldn’t I?”)

What he said next has made a huge difference in my life. Let me paraphrase:

“Isabella, there are many different ways of interpreting this. For example, you could see it as meaning, ‘as I am going down the path of temptation, please help me steer away from it, lead me somewhere else.’

You can do this with anything in the Bible. As a matter of fact, I encourage you to do that. Read the Bible in such a way that it gives you the most benefit. Let the Bible be something that God has written for YOU. Make it your own!”

It was one of those moments where something that I had known intellectually for a long time all of a sudden made sense to me on a very deep, transformative level. It was as if Pastor Bruce had showed me a door that I had passed by for decades. All I needed to do was open it and walk through.

It opened the door for me to go back to and discover Christian texts – the Bible in its many translations, the beautiful words of the 13th-century woman mystic Julian of Norwich, the more contemporary writings by Brother Roger of Taize, to name a few – as well as other spiritual texts that had heretofore not really touched me, most notably 12-step literature.

It changed my life.

Spirituality had always been an important part in my life but after this, I reached a level of commitment and passion that I had always longed for but could never completely feel in my bones. My lifelong interest in Buddhism deepened, I felt free to reclaim my strong Christian roots planted by my deeply religious Lutheran minister grandfather, I gained a deep appreciation of the wisdom of the 12 steps, and the Pagan stirrings that had been with me since the early 80s unfolded into a beautiful, nurturing and creative spiritual practice.

Why am I telling you all this? A while ago, I read some moving words here on Alexander’s blog. They moved me but … I had a bit of a funny reaction to the specific use of language. Thankfully, I had a little conversation with Alexander about that and showed him my own rewrite of the quote. In response he quoted a Baha’i text:

“Reveal then Thyself, O Lord, by Thy merciful utterance and the mystery of Thy divine being, that the holy ecstasy of prayer may fill our souls – a prayer that shall rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds – that all things may be merged into nothingness before the revelation of Thy splendor.”
Compilations, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 70

… and that reminded me of my experience with Pastor Bruce.

Yes.

Let’s rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds – that all things may be merged into nothingness before the revelation of God’s splendor.

~~~~~~~~~

Isabella Mori is Canada’s blogging psychotherapist and talks about spirituality, psychology, creativity and social justice on her blog Change Therapy.