SPIRITUAL STORIES

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From time to time people are asked to describe their faith. When this is presented as an open question, rather than a set of mutually exclusive categories, the answer often comes in the form of a story. The teller relays their history, their trials and tribulations, their journey, usually ending with a commentary about where they are now and perhaps where they hope to go. It is not a simple explanation, but a very telling tale of spirituality, identity, and growth.

Ask someone their religious inclination and its likely to be a short and non-descript response. But ask about their spiritual beliefs and a story will emerge. Why? For one, it is harder to describe one’s personal spirituality without significant explanation. It also allows for things that don’t fall within the confines of organized religion as we know and understand it. Spirituality can be very personal, while religion is a regulated and public expression. Therefore, there are regulated and common ways to describe religion that do little to shed light on the personal experiences of the story teller.

Spiritual stories are not just to relay information to others, it is for the speaker as much as the listener. Every telling of one’s spiritual story is a chance to redefine, rekindle, and re-stake spiritual beliefs; as well as propel or redirect the spiritual journey. Some believe that the spoken word is very powerful. By granting it the energy of being spoken allowed, it is on its way to becoming manifest, a magic incantation for the ‘mundane’ world. Imagine the implications for the spiritual story. By telling it again and again we make it truer to ourselves and the world. The story gives a truth and narrative for the teller to live into. Every retelling is a chance to create or alter the teller’s reality.

What is your spiritual story? Are you the victim or the victor of your story? How does it drive you to live out your identity or press you to change? Think about your story now compared to 10 years ago. How has it evolved?

GET OUT GO BIG

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Even in this global world of ours, especially in this global world of ours, we can get caught up in the daily grind. We hear about events from around the world, and yet sometimes we can’t see past the end of our own noses. Between twitter, to-do lists, work demands, Facebook, family obligations, schedules and smart phones we often lose sight of the big picture.

When your feeling bogged down or tangled up in the web of contemporary living, its important to reconnect with the big picture. For some of the spiritually inclined, this might mean thinking on or studying the divine or otherworldly powers.  For others in might be getting in touch with raw reality and the earth in its purer forms by getting out in nature. Whatever it takes to get outside of yourself and get a taste of the big wide world out there, do it.

Meditate or pray. Take a leisurely walk and take a new route, go somewhere new, get lost. Get out in nature and find a view point where you can’t see one man-made thing. Spend time with animals, maybe some big animals to remind you of how small you are in the world. Look up at the stars. Research the cosmos. Try something new, try being vulnerable, try letting go of some control and roll with the punches.

Get out and get your mind out of the rat race you have created for yourself and experience the world as it is without your constructions. Such efforts will not only bring peace to you, but help you function with balance. With a bit of perspective, you can keep overreaction and irrationality at bay. With our eye on the big picture we will become even more effective at our daily tasks, all the while staying focused on what’s important.

LANGUAGE & MEANING

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If you wanted to know the meaning of a word, you would look it up in a dictionary. Now that often means looking it up online rather than in a physical book. But the dictionary remains to be a useful and simple tool. Look up a word alphabetically and find the definition(s) listed behind, along with other useful information such as its grammatical part of speech. It is a very simple and straight forward process.

But the simple, straight forward nature of dictionaries can be misleading in terms of meaning. Meaning is so much more than definition. There is history to be taken into account, along with connotations and context. Dictionary definitions do little to help this. Events and people give words new meaning. You often certain groups ‘hijacking’ words for their own purposes, associating them with different meanings. Many times, these are controversial groups giving words new meanings that a perceived to be negative by the general populous. But not always. Often these new meanings come about quite innocently. For example, people of various spiritual traditions often use the same vocabulary to speak about very different ideas. A southern Baptist and a New Ager may both talk about Jesus Christ, but they use that term with very different meanings. It is not done intentionally to spite another group, but nonetheless it can cause confusion and upset.

Can we continue to use ‘hijacked’ words, or those imbued with new meaning, according to their standard dictionary definitions? Or will they be tainted with their new meanings forever? If there is one thing this conundrum ensures it is that language is alive and meaning is not static. Instead it is perpetually changing. Together we shape language, and determine what meanings remain relevant and which become obsolete. Meaning changes but it isn’t fickle, it’s a powerful force that changes how we view and speak about our world. Let’s remember that as we choose how to address each other, what to publish, and what to listen to.

ORGANIZED RELIGION: JUST A BUNCH OF DRY BONES?

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The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

Organized religion in secular, Western countries has been on a decline that shows no signs of stopping. Most of those remaining are often struggling to survive. Spending most of their energy on survival, less energy is available for secondary matters such as those of spirit. But with logistics being attended to while spiritual activities go by the wayside, can these struggling organizations really be called ‘religious’? Is such a title shallow and arbitrary? Are our current religious establishments just dried up remnants of organizations with real spiritual value from days gone by? Are we just dry bones from bodies that were once alive and active with matters of the spirit?

In America, I feel organized religion is fighting death, fighting to be more than dry bones, even though it seems to become more of a threat every day. In the reading from Ezekiel, it takes two attempts to bring the bones back to life. One attempt brings the bones together and recreate the bodies that once were. But they are not alive. In my opinion, that is were organized religion is now. The ground work is laid, the organization and structure are there, but that spark of life is still largely absent. We need living word, will, and action to move the spirit and create organizations that live in this world rather than function as relics of fossilized traditions.