What would constitute the non-negotiables of my spiritual path?

I have been recently catching up with Beck’s writings (and he writes a lot, so if you skip a month or so you are, easily, 12 15 long essays behind!). He wrote about his “Buddhist phase” and the things he took from Buddhism. His list is pretty much identical to mine. One thing he mentions in there I found interesting. Beck asks, “Why didn’t I become a Buddhist like so many other former Christians?” A very, very good question. And he answers himself, “I think, at root, it was a psychological reason. To be blunt, I’m too pissed off to be a Buddhist.’

Hah! that is a very interesting answer. But most interesting for me was this insight: “So there it is, the main reason why I didn’t convert to Buddhism. I couldn’t sacrifice this aspect of my religious experience.”

This got me thinking about what would I not ever sacrifice of my religious experience?

The first thing that immediately pops to mind when I think of this is Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac, that is usually read as sacrificing everything you’ve got. So clearly holding back anything is not a good idea as Ananias and Sapphira found out (Acts 5). It seems from Abraham to Acts that God really is uninterested in sacrifices, especially small sacrifices (see for example the story of the widow’s mite) – rather it seems complete sacrifice is required, or at least desired.

Romuald’s Rule suggests that we should annihilate ourselves – destrue te totum, to be very literal “destroy yourself completely.”

But I know what Beck is talking about. He is really talking about the other big problem of religious observance – idolatry. The choosing one “god” over God. Had he, one assumes, embraced Buddhism he would have had to sacrifice his God-given anger in the altar of Buddhist practice as he understood it, and that would be same as idolatry, really. This sacrificing of our deep selves happens constantly in our culture – we sacrifice indignation for ease, we sacrifice compassion for competition, we sacrifice charity for greed. And on and on.

But everyone has a point beyond which they will not go. There are limits, no matter how much we want to pretend they are not there.

I am not sure I know what my sine quibus non are. I would like to think that doubt and general anger at injustice would be in that list, but I am not completely sure. I do know that The Way itself requires sacrifice – most especially our cherished idols.

So I have questions I carry around with me, they are actually part of my personal Rule:

  • How did God create the world?
  • How does God sustain the world?
  • What exactly is the Divine “oikonomia”?
  • What does it mean to be made in the ‘image of God’?
  • How do I relate to an image of God (another person) and how should I relate?
  • If I (and everyone) am a completely different person every so many years (even all cells changed, let alone thoughts and feelings) how exactly did Jesus save “me”?

Perhaps two main questions are: What is this me (not “Who am I?” but rather “Am I?”) that God loves and wants to save? What are the consequences of accepting God’s love?

These are some of my root folder questions. All other questions tend to be placed within them – so I guess that somewhere in there are my “psychological reasons”, they just need some teasing out. For example if a radically different belief system, say Earthseed, could provide me with answers to these questions would I convert? Would the answers to these questions be able to be falsified? This is actually critical. If an artificial religion like Scientology or Flying Spaghetti Monster (or Earthseed!) was able to answer these questions would it negate the value of Christian answers? I mean if I could contrive a set of beliefs that answered these questions (and more) would it then require me to convert?

And this brings me to perhaps one of my cruxes: it is not about my understanding, but rather a living relationship. As with any relationship there is plenty that a relationship with God does not answer, there is plenty which is just plain irrational (like love) and there is plenty which is contradictory, or at best when challenged you can only shrug and say “it depends” or “it’s complicated.”

I like complicated. I like a complicated religion. It has been decades since I last trusted my own clarity. In fact I actively distrust it, since it led me down the wrong paths, and eventually, inevitably, it let me down. So complicated is where I think reality is most present. Not everything is explainable or even justifiable! Some things are best left unsaid about our relationships. And this applies twice as much to our relationship with God. Please do not tell me what you do when you go into your closet! Really. Please. I feel dirty when I hear about it. Transparency is a virtue for politics and accounting, not for spiritual life.

About spaceloom

An urban monk, and an experienced spiritual director with a Masters in Psychology. Married with two children. Want to know me better? Read my thoughts.
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