Sunday, November 4, 2012
Every Friday, I gather with a group of eight people who are spiritual seekers.They are not members of my parish, but they are extremely dedicated to examining the nature and living of the spiritual life. Their interest is a serious and disciplined pursuit for this group.
Even though we have met for about two years, the members have never expressed any interest in Episcopal theology or liturgy. Yet, they are faithful in their weekly attendance. I have never forced the group into adopting an Episcopal character, rather we explore various ideas and practices of spirituality. The topics include a wide range, such as the history and expressions of Christian mysticism, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, New Thought concepts, Existential philosophy, transcendental idealism, methods of meditation, Lectio Divina, the Jesus prayer etc.
There is no set text, materials or workbook, instead we seem to move from one particular spiritual writer to another. We explore a text and engage in an in depth sharing of ideas and feelings that come from the text. We use two words that express the functioning of an open ended spiritual dialogue with a text and each other, namely the shimmering of the soul and the raising of spiritual consciousness and the shimmering of the soul.
Raising of Spiritual Consciousness
An essential part of spiritual formation is allowing the conscious mind to enter into a state of spiritual awareness. There are many ways of describing consciousness, but for the sake of brevity consciousness simply means being focused. When the mind is focused on the pursuit of God in our life, then we enter into a state of spiritual consciousness. The traditional methods of moving to a state of spiritual consciousness is by means of prayer, meditation and spiritual reading. In the weekly formation group we spend time in meditation using a variety of methods such as Christian Zen, visual biblical meditations, mantras etc. We read aloud from a spiritual text and dialogue about the meaning and application of the text.
The concept of spiritual shimmering is very important to the raising of consciousness. For example, we might read the text Hidden Jesus, Hidden Buddha, the Cloud of Unknowing or Become a Better You by Joel Osteen. The group is asked if there was any reading in the text today that caused a shimmering in your soul. When we share these shimmering insights and feelings, we begin to sense our souls moving together. It is this shimmering and the moving of souls that takes us to a higher level of spiritual awareness.
Spiritual formation is about taking care of the mind, body and soul. In this life these three characteristics of being a person are never separate. Spirituality gives care to the soul to the extent that the mind and body are moved. In our spiritual formation group, the soul is moved to the new possibilities for a more spiritual life by shimmering. We are moved by this idea, this feeling, this moment of meditative silence, this new person or this new situation. We can never separate the soul from the body and the body becomes spiritual only in movement.
God has not created us as static creatures. It is the nature of the soul to move towards the spiritual possibilities that become apparent to the seeker. It is only when we move that we discover through the our continuous encounter with others and the situations of life our spiritual nature.
Moving to Become a Better You
Last week in our group, we were sharing some ideas about the empowering nature of spirituality. One of the members had been to a Joel Osteen conference and suggested that he empowers people to get on with their life. We discussed how often many priests and ministers are critical of Osteen saying, "Oh, he is just motivational speaker; it is not really Christianity." Well, we disagreed! We were inclined to regard his teachings as a type of Existentialism Idealism.
I suggest that many of the clergy that criticize Osteen have never read his work. I have read his work, and I believe he preaches a spiritual formation of Christian Existential Idealism. For example, look at the topics in his book: Become a Better You: Keep Moving Forward, Be Positive Toward Yourself, Develop better Relationships, Form Better habits, Embrace the Place Where you Are, Develop Your Inner Life, Stay Passionate About Life.
Episcopal Journey of Hope Movement
Obviously, there are thousands of people who are moved by the Osteen existential empowerment style of preaching and teaching. It seems to me that people today are looking for spiritual leaders who have a concrete spirituality that moves the mind, body and soul to living a better life. Looking at the number of people listening and reading spiritual teachers like Osteen, Joyce Myers and Bishop Jakes, I would say that Episcopalians have some serious questions to ask.