This is simultaneously an ideal and what I’m attempting to live out in this life. I am not always so sure of the reality of it; but I must affirm something and strive to keep it true. I hope for nothing less than to fully discover humanity and spirituality in this—though that discovery is sometimes painful if it’s complete. I speak below about scars and wounds, about how I heal and want to heal others. But it’s becoming clear to me that the deepest scars are those self-inflicted ones and the wounds we must first heal in others are those we have given them. Otherwise, these are all just pleasant words on a page. A spirituality that lacks that awareness and action is wholly destructive.
At one time, not so long ago, I would have described myself as a religious person. I was comfortable in that—not really proud or self-righteous, I just felt that God had blessed me by putting me in with the right people (it was a faith of polarities; everyone else was obviously wrong). I was at a time in my life where I needed physical and psychological order. I wanted to be in a place where I knew exactly what was expected of me and how others would react and behave in any given situation. This is something I’ve realised in retrospect and, had I known and been able to discern the underlying motivations at the time, I may have made different decisions. However, these were the decisions of dogmatic youth and perhaps to be expected in the life of a seeker.
I was soured and would even say scarred by my experiences with a presentation of Christianity in a specific cultural and historical context. I have had enough time to reflect and observe that my experiences are not unique, though they were my own. Though I was in what I would call a spiritually abusive environment, it was not so much ‘me’ that was wounded but my concept of God. I was not angry at God nor did I think the idea of Christianity is fruitless. I was just at a loss concerning how to genuinely integrate the religious structure presented to me into my own experience. I emerged from that time with a sorely tried expression of God in my life. Nonetheless, I realise the value of those experiences in opening up space for a genuine and personal reconnection to a world that is spiritual and present with me.
I see, rather than lost time in the past, these experiences as preparatory to the present. I would not be able to comprehend as much now without such a personal history. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with shepherds along the way who have seen what’s truly happening and have guided me gently from one threshold to the other. My perception of God and my connection to spirituality is now far beyond the box once provided. That’s not to say ‘better than’ or even more ‘right’; it is, simply, the truth of the experience I have had and the response I must make to be alive and growing.
Two things happened as I began to travel extensively outside the US. One, I realised that there were other Christians in the world and, behold, they had different thoughts about the living the Christian life. Two, there were people of other religions (who I had always thought of as The Other) who seemed to have a genuine connection with God and an understanding of their own spiritual lives. What’s more is that I saw interactions between these two groups; the other kinds of Christians were connecting with The Others in ways which I had not thought possible (or, frankly, right).
What I began to see was that my own understanding, or more properly the understanding thrust upon me that I accepted, limited legitimate connections with other people (it was some time before I realised that it also hindered connections with my own spiritual self). The prejudices ingrained in my understanding of other expressions of Christianity, let alone other faiths, placed a cap on my perceptions. I had, prior to this, a severe self-limiting filter that would quickly dismiss anything that was not in line with my own beliefs and methods of faith. Travel, a complete removal from the cultural and religious atmosphere I was accustomed to, made this all apparent.
However, I did not come to a crisis point where I was faced with a decision to move from one system to another; this has been a journey along a wide arc of belief and personal understanding. Also, I have not embraced any particular ‘system’ that wholesale replaces my previous one. I have come to a place that, while I still cannot fully articulate a definitive statement of faith or list of doctrines, I feel more balanced and fulfilled than ever before. Indeed, I don’t feel it necessary to quantify an exact list of these things or match them up against any other. Rather than living by the dictates of a particular denomination or creed, I am attempting to be present with my spirit and the connection with a larger truth that may be beyond ready definition. That’s not to say that faith is ambiguous or that I’m ambivalent about truth; but I believe there is more to what is true than what any one group of people can codify.
God makes a statement of existence in the Old Testament, ‘I AM’. It’s a statement of complete connection; there is no separation of physical and spiritual perception. It’s both a statement of the present and statement of presence; God is present in the moment that ‘is’ and coming to understand this has given me the insight that there is no separation between ‘my’ spirit and ‘your’ spirit (or, ‘us’ and ‘I AM’ for that matter). Essentially, I believe our spirit is; there is a dynamic part related to our understanding of it and that changes over time. But our spirit is not a ‘thing’ that is built like a house. Our experience of the spiritual is a matter of connection or disconnection.
This is not an easy stance to have. It’s not the ‘anything goes’ spirituality that is so derided in any given religious community; that explanation is too simplistic. It’s only now, after a decade or so of living this through, that I am at peace with it. I’m not entirely sure I would still describe myself as a ‘Christian’ in the sense that is generally accepted. I find myself increasingly distanced from the ideals that are promoted by ‘Christians’. However, if I can make the distinction, I’m more open now than ever to the emergence of Christ in me. This emergence is something I meditate upon daily and hold at the forefront of my everyday experience.
About four years ago, I discovered that a maternal ancestor was one of the founders of Quakerism in America. as I began to research and read about Quaker thought, the path of spirituality presented there resonated with me. It was as if the principles were long dormant and emerged when called upon. What I find so compelling about Quaker practice is the almost complete dissuasion from forming dogma. There is discussion surrounding the meeting, but the meeting itself is not to promote a certain set of beliefs or an agenda. It’s an experience where one can be let alone, yet it’s also meeting with the God in each other—the God presence in community. Quakers seek to ‘see that of God’ in others; this is a positive affirmation of the Divinity present in us all rather than a refutation of what others may or may not believe. After many years of holding to a belief that others must acknowledge a god in the shape my people have made, I’m glad to find a way to see the expression of God in every person.
I once saw spiritual growth as a tiered system; one day, I might hope to achieve some advanced level of saintliness with enough work and grace. I’m sure there is some lingering thought of that in my head; but my heart says something different now. I am on an open journey in which I hope there is no ‘ending’, just continued unfolding. I realise that we perceive linear time and the flow from one moment to the next. But there is another reality of spirit that I’ve caught glimpses of. It’s a reality in which the spirit is fully present in a whole and magnificent state; where we see each other as abundant and unlimited beings who are fully connected to the nature of the Universe and each other.
My greatest hope is to bring healing to myself and others through this connection. In my travels and experiences, I’ve met many people who are deeply hurting and wounded physically and spiritually. Though I carry scars myself, I’ve also been blessed with healing and an understanding of wounds. It’s through this that healing comes; Jung said, ‘only the wounded physician heals’. I feel called to be that for the people I encounter in whatever way I can. My name, Jason, means healer. I take that as both what I am called and my calling in this life.