Monday, March 14, 2016

Navigating the Unknown

"Finding a Way in the Wilderness"

I’ve been asking myself a question about why people choose to be religious or why they embrace some sort of spiritual discipline in their lives? My guess is that religion often provides comfort and security especially in troubled times. Many people may turn to religion to give them answers to the perplexing questions life poses. People may also think that their religion gives them “priority access” to a “God” who will fix all their problems in this life and open the gates of the afterlife when they die.

As I see it, people often cling so tightly to their religious beliefs because religion and spiritual practices provide a safe harbor from the restless waves in the seas of life.

But from my point of view, embracing the wisdom of any spiritual path does just the opposite of fixing problems and providing clear-cut answers to perplexing questions and daunting mysteries.

While browsing through a “spirituality and health” magazine the other day,  I came across this helpful and insightful piece of wisdom written by Rabbi Rami Shapiro (often recognized as someone who is a bridge between eastern and western religions):

When it comes to religion
 or for that matter, when it comes to embracing any spiritual path,
there is no security, surety or safety.
There is only the wildness of life lived in the shadow of death.
If your religion provides you with the humility
to know that you do not know,
the wisdom to see past what you claim to know,
and the courage to navigate the unknown
with compassion, curiosity, justice and grace,
then it is as true as any religion can and needs to be.

When I read this the other day I thought to myself that this may perhaps be the best description that I have ever read of what a spiritual journey is all about.

Indeed, on a spiritual journey we navigate the unknown. The deepest wisdom one can gain on any spiritual path is the realization that, when it comes to “God” none of us ever actually knows what we claim to know because “God” is beyond knowledge.  “God” is the “Great Mystery,” transcendent, unexplainable, unable to be captured by our glib answers and clear-cut paths that we cling to so tenaciously.

When it comes to religion there is no safe harbor, no security or surety.  All we can ever do is embrace the “Great Mystery” as we make our way through the wonderful and sometimes frightening territory of the wildness of life lived in the shadow of death. And as we navigate our way through the wilderness we hold each other as close as we can, treat each other with compassion and work to build a more just society.

This reminds me of something priest and author, Barbara Brown Taylor, once said about her own spiritual journey and the wisdom she has developed as she now enters into the later years of her life:

After so many years of trying to cobble together a way of thinking about God
that makes sense so that I can safely settle down with it,
it all turns to ‘nothing.’
There is no permanently safe place on earth to settle.
I will always be at sea steering by the stars.
Yet as dark as this sounds, it provides me with great relief
because it now sounds truer than anything that came before.

Many centuries ago the Spanish monk and mystic, Saint John of the Cross, offered this wisdom to any who would walk upon a spiritual path:

If you want to be sure of the road on which you travel,
you must close your eyes and walk in the dark.

Oddly enough I find great comfort in these words, so I close my eyes and “trust” that I am not alone.

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