- in my meditation garden -
Yesterday I had a conversation online with a friend of mine - I told him that I had spent the morning at church. Without missing a beat he immediately shot back, “Oh, I don’t do the church thing any more, you guys set too many high standards for me to be able to follow, my life is way too messy to be going to church.”
His response really struck a chord in me.
Lots of people nowadays do not belong to a church or affiliate with any sort of religion. Sometimes they keep away from churches because they reject a belief in God, sometimes they are uncomfortable with the rituals and rules of organized religion and prefer to walk a more personal “spiritual” path; but there is also a rather large segment of non-religious people who do not affiliate with religious organizations because they think that “the standards are too high for the messy lives they lead.”
Interestingly enough, even people who do “go to church” often feel the same way.
Many religious people believe that belonging to their church, synagogue or temple demands that they live a life of spiritual perfection -they are expected to have unquestionable faith and to follow high moral standards. But, like all other human beings, church folks also have their own doubts, their secret sins and human flaws; and so, even though they “go to church” many feel as if the “messy lives” they lead make them somewhat hypocritical.
As I see it whether or not you spend a Sunday in church pew or choose instead to walk on a beach or sit at Starbucks, the one basic standard for any spiritual quest is not perfection but imperfection.
A spiritual quest of any kind is indeed governed by the “high standard” of compassion - every human being has the noble calling to walk in love, to live in a way that respects the dignity of other human beings. But living a life of compassion is not a litmus test to determine whether or not you belong or don’t belong to the “religion club;” rather “compassion” is the direction toward which we point the compass of life as we walk a spiritual path. And lots of times we get lost along the way.
In fact on a spiritual path, more often than not we find the “way” by losing our way.
Priest and author, Richard Rohr, has compared the spiritual journey to riding a bike – the way you learn how to ride is by falling off the bike until you are able to achieve some sort of balance, and even then you fall from time to time when you come across some bumpy patches. Rohr says:
We grow spiritually more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.
You learn how to recover from falling by falling.
In fact, when I look at the many writings of the great saints, mystics and spiritual heroes of the ages, I discover that they often talk about the direction of a spiritual path as falling rather than climbing.
In one of his epistles, Saint Paul expresses the great paradox of the spiritual journey:
When I am weak, I am strong.
Yes indeed each and every one of us leads lives that might best be described as “messy.” And yet this imperfection is our great gift - our messiness is the key to our growth on the path. When we see that our lives are flawed and imperfect we can become vulnerable enough to reach out for another’s hand to help us along the way.
For me this is about the only reason why I find myself inside a church on Sunday.