Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Spiritual Religion

Every one of us has a religion. Our religion is the way we understand reality and the way we live in the world according to our understanding. It is our worldview and our way of life. We can say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” but our spiritual health is determined by our religion whether we realize it or not. We live according to what we believe.

Every religion tells a story, the single story that explains all of reality, what is real in the world. All the individual stories and teachings present in each religion are all part of that religion’s one story that describes who God is, who we are, our relationship with God, our true identity, our purpose in life, who we can become, and the way to reach our fullest human potential. Our religion is more than a list of doctrines. It is a comprehensive way of thinking and believing that helps us to make sense of life in the world. If each of us wrote down the story of humanity’s relationship with our Creator from the beginning, through the present, until the end of time, then each of us would probably describe on paper the content of our religion. Our religion determines how we comprehend the world around us and how we live every day.

The world is full of religions with their particular stories. While the different religions in the world appear to have many common teachings and tell similar stories, when one understands each religion in terms of its main, “big-picture” story, one finds that each religion is really very unique and different, and contradicts others. Since we were all created by the same Creator in His image, we should expect to see some commonness among the various religious traditions of the world. We do find similarities on the surface, but the commonness doesn’t run very deep because we have corrupted the Truth with our ignorance. All religions, or at least most of them, contain truths about human existence from which we can learn. The problem is that the truths are accompanied by misconceptions, corruptions of the Truth. In order to find spiritual health, we need the right religion, containing the knowledge of the Truth in its purest, uncorrupted fullness. We need the religion that tells the spiritual story of the human race the way it really happens. Only when we see reality as it really is can we truly find spiritual wholeness. When we know who the true and living God is, and we know who we are, we can form an intimate relationship with our Creator nourished by His divine, transforming love and grace.

The true religion does not just tell us how to see the world. It is also a lifestyle, the spiritual way of life, the path toward spiritual perfection laid out for us by the One who created everything that exists. One who walks the spiritual path of true religion not only walks the path made by God, but walks that path with God Himself as a companion and guide. Imagine having been blind from birth, living isolated in an urban apartment most of your life without much contact with the outside world, even through the media. Suddenly you find yourself able to see, standing in the middle of a beautiful, misty, sun-lit forest. It’s a strange new sight, one that’s incomprehensible and indescribable. It’s a little scary. Fortunately for you, a guide who knows the forest emerges from the shadows, introduces himself, and offers help. You graciously accept his offer. He explains to you the nature of the forest, what all the strange objects, like trees, are around you, and the interaction among the living things who live there. Beyond explaining to you how to understand your new-found reality, your guide also teaches you how to survive in your new environment so that you enjoy life rather than fall victim to the many mistakes that could potentially make you sick or kill you. He teaches you what paths are safe and which are not, what food will nourish you and what will hurt you, and how to protect yourself from the natural elements. As you spend time with your guide, you grow close to him and learn from his knowledge and wisdom. On the path of true religion, the way of spirituality, the One who created the universe, brought you into existence, and knows all things, acts as your guide.

Orthodox Christianity is the the way of spiritual religion. Our way of understanding reality and our way of life have been revealed by the Creator Himself. Orthodox means “right belief” and “right glory.” Christian applies to those who follow Christ, the Son of God. An Orthodox Christian is a member of the sacred community established by Christ where the divine knowledge and the spiritual way of life has been preserved and lived through the ages for thousands of years. We have been called to keep the true Faith, to embody it in the world, to allow the light of divine Truth to shine through us, and to invite each person who seeks union with God to join us in our common life.

“We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity: for He hath saved us.” – from the Divine Liturgy

Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees. Photo copyright © 2004 by Dana S. Kees.