Moving forward

What’s next, as I embark on the next leg of my spiritual direction journey? How do I maintain and build on my progress?  

My first goal will be to spend some time each day outdoors – away from the computer screen, away from the political bickering by culture warriors on TV and Facebook, away from endless news reports about people’s inhumanity to other people. Because nature constantly reminds me of God’s existence, going outside is something I can easily do whenever I encounter those pesky doubts. I need to immerse myself in God’s creation. Watch sunsets. Listen to cicadas. Smell some flowers. Feel the breeze against my face. Take a walk. Dig around in the dirt and plant flowers or veggies. Experience evidence of God with all my senses. If severe weather keeps me inside, I can nurture the plants in the sunroom or watch the birds and squirrels from the picture window in the living room. Meanwhile, I’d like to start each day with Psalm 118:24, which reminds me, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” 

While I’m nowhere near my original goal of “a place for everything and everything in its place,” I’ve made some real headway sorting through physical clutter. I still advise houseguests against venturing into the basement or garage (I’d rather not have to file a missing person report), but the house mostly stays presentable enough so I’m not totally embarrassed when someone drops by without notice. I plan to continue with my spiritual director’s recommendation: Devote one hour per day to tackling clutter. And stop collecting more and more STUFF to fill a home already bursting at the seams with too much material abundance.

My spiritual director and I have also explored various kinds of “spiritual clutter” that crowd attention to God out of my life – and I eliminated a major distractor by walking away from an incredibly abusive volunteer work situation. As much as leaving the organization saddened me, I must say I love the newfound free time. Deadlines have practically disappeared. I feel so much “lighter” – like I’ve put down the 100-pound bag of stress I carried around for five years. Now, as I ponder the question of vocation, I must resist the urge to plunge into something new right away. I need to be selective as I discern where God wants me to go next.

My continuing spiritual journey also involves asking more questions. Lots of them:

  • The nature of God. I’ve decided there must be some kind of Creator. But who, or what, is this Entity I choose to call God? Is God distant and uninvolved, as some deists claim? Or is God a “close-up” entity who not only cares about each of us personally, but intervenes regularly in human affairs?
  • Authority. What is my authority for what I believe? The Bible? Church tradition? Clergy? Why, or why not? What about the priesthood of all believers? Where does science fit in? Since not even all Christians agree on the issue of authority, how do I decide who is right? Also, who or what outside of church has influenced my beliefs? How reliable are these sources of authority? Should I rethink some of them?
  • Church. Why go to church, when by my own admission, I feel the presence of God most while immersed in nature? Is there anything I can get from church that I can’t just as easily get by going outside? If we go to church, how often do we go? What characteristics should I look for when evaluating a church? What characteristics serve as deal-breakers? 
  • Prayer. What is prayer and how should we pray? Can writing, singing and gardening be forms of prayer? Is it okay to ask God for things? What about “crowd-sourced” prayer on Facebook?
  • Salvation. Some Christians say we’re “saved” through baptism, while others insist we must make a personal decision for Christ. Which is it? What about predestination? Is there a literal heaven or hell? If so, who goes where? What does salvation mean, actually?
  • The 10 Commandments. How do I relate these Commandments to 21st Century issues? For example, I promise I’ve never even been tempted to worship a golden calf made from melted-down jewelry. But what about the bronze bull on Wall Street? What does it mean to keep the Sabbath Day holy in a 24/7 culture that worships productivity? What constitutes stealing? Your wallet may be safe with me, but what about the way I invest my money?
  • Sin. In a world where many “sins” have been reframed as “diseases,” is sin still a legitimate concept? Is sin a specific act or is it the condition of separation from God? How would liberal Christians define sin versus how conservative Christians would define it? Who is correct?
  • Creeds. Considering that no creed exists anywhere in the Bible and a number of Christian churches don’t have one, do we need a creed? If so, what should be in it? 
  • Politics and the Culture Wars. Part of my motivation for seeking spiritual direction was the extreme level of vitriol permeating our society in recent years. I’ve begun to suspect I’m part of an Exhausted Majority who feels pressured to take sides in the Culture Wars, but at the same time doesn’t fit neatly into either the liberal or conservative camps. As the partisan positions have gotten more and more extreme, common sense seems to have flown out the window. This has prompted me to ask: What are my own beliefs and what is my role as a Christian in our society’s political battles? Even if we think someone’s values are totally wrong, how do we change hearts and minds if we demonize certain people and won’t have anything to do with them? 
  • Ecumenism. Is there a common core of beliefs shared by most Christians, regardless of sect or denomination? Do all of these denominations offer equally legitimate paths to God? Is there a way to heal the divisions between believers and relate respectfully to people whose viewpoints differ from ours?

That’s just for starters. 

When my spiritual director asked me point-blank if I ever doubted the existence of God, her question gave me permission to “go there.” For the next leg of my spiritual journey, I want to keep being honest about the questions I have.

One thing I do know for sure: I’m grateful to be making the journey with this spiritual director. When I shared this list of questions with her, as usual, there were no lectures. She just smiled and asked, “Where do you want to start?”

11 thoughts on “Moving forward

  1. I had to come by for a visit. I’m sure our paths are as dissimilar as they are similar. You are where I was many years ago. My “Search” has always been a spiritual one even though I keep it to myself. I’m enlightened daily by mundane things and people put on my path. I no longer find organizations feed or nurture my spiritual nature but simple things do. You are right to find much time in nature. It’s where I meditate and pray. I’ll visit again soon.

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  2. What I really love about this is that the questions are ones many have but might be afraid to face head-on. To doubt and still believe — a real definition of faith, but not blind faith. I had a hard time with the church thing, especially since we travel a bunch. For a while I did podcasts. Now I “attend” my son’s church in Utah (I’m in NY). I love feeling like I’m with the kids worshiping. A friend of mine from my last home (three hrs from me) often joins us during the live stream. The connection is pretty cool. Join if you want on I . I do the 6pm service so I can see my dil sing 🙂

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      • If you feel inspired, go to the link I gave you and click it in 55 minutes. Soon you will see a message that it’s live. And that’s all there is to it. Sometimes the music sounds a bit off-key due to transmission, but the talking is great. I think your husband has my email address. Feel free to contact me if you have any qualms. I’ll send you my phone # and talk you through it 🙂 No pressure, though.

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  3. I was about to ask you where you were going to start. Glad she asked you already. I think the advantage of a church is that it exposes you to all sorts of other seekers. Also God in community seems richer to me than God and me.

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    • I’ve decided to start with what to do with my occasional doubts about a personal God (as opposed to the deist concept of uninvolved God). These doubts are most likely to rear their head when prayers go unanswered, or I see people suffering from natural disasters, etc. Then I’ll probably just go down the list!

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      • I have found a deep connection with a personal God, but it had to come with a true knowledge that suffering is part of the deal. An old hymn I like says “sometimes He calms the storm and sometimes He calms the child.”

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  4. Amazing, Deb. Quite a meditation. So glad you are relieved of the stress of the past five years. What you gave in those years cannot be discounted. You gave your all!
    Those questions you list are profound. Have you investigated any of Illia Delia’s work on the cosmos and our perception of God via the Universe Story?
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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