I received a letter from an online friend. I get letters like this all the time. But this is exactly the problem I love addressing. This is real, folks.
I’m going to share a part of her letter, used with her permission, and I’m going to show you how I responded:
“Now that I have deconstructed the beliefs I once held as Truth, I don’t know how to connect with God. I don’t know how to approach Him. So I don’t. But I miss Him. I don’t know how to read my Bible anymore without falling into my old patterns of belief. I am not sure what to do with it anymore. I am aware that there are books you suggest, but perhaps you could steer me in a direction that would be helpful. I think I am afraid (and I don’t want to be afraid) of latching onto “religion” again….religion that binds. How do I remain spiritual without becoming religious and ruining my life? (LOL)… funny, but I am serious. I finally feel I am able to REALLY love people as individuals and accept myself, instead of daily slaying myself and others for every way in which I and they don’t measure up to the Bible’s ideal. Perhaps you can suggest some exercises and activities for me? Not just books. I do love to read and would love suggestions for books, but sometimes “doing” leaves a bigger impression on me than words on a page. I need my own experiences to replace the old ones that are so deeply carved into my psyche. Thank you, David.”
Here’s what I wrote in response. I hope it is helpful:
“Thanks for trusting me with you story and your ‘problem’. Actually, it’s not a problem. It’s just life. So… here’s what I have to say.
1. Why worry about what could happen? So what if you become more religious or spiritual or return to some former theological position? Or what if you become even less of a believer and become an atheist? As long as you arrive there honestly then you’re okay, and you will feel okay about it at the time. The fact that you are aware of your patterns is all that you need. Most people aren’t aware and that’s the most serious problem. So I congratulate you on your increasing self-awareness. This is what really matters.
2. Our spirituality is seasonal. Sometimes we go through intense times of what feels like spiritual intimacy, and sometimes we go through intense times of what feels like spiritual alienation. Sometimes oasis, sometimes desert. Sometimes there’s wind in our sails and sometimes there isn’t. If there isn’t, relax. Enjoy the doldrums. Just because you don’t feel any wind right now doesn’t mean it no longer exists or will never return or isn’t blowing somewhere else for now.
3. The more mature our prayer, the more silent it becomes. I don’t use the word “prayer” anymore. But I do continue to practice being present with what is… being here now, in the moment, at one with reality. How else could we pray without ceasing? There are no words. I no longer use words, so I can’t even really say that I pray. It is more like a communion, or like intimate sex (to use a graphic illustration) where no words are necessary but can actually be an inappropriate intrusion.
4. Don’t judge yourself. You sound very healthy. You are self-aware. Let whatever moves you move you. For example, yesterday I a worship song scrolled through my iTunes and it moved me, so I listened to it over and over again for hours while I wrote. Now, my earlier self would have judged the present me for that. But not anymore. That’s just how I felt in communion with myself and in touch with The Benediction in that moment. The other day I pulled out my long neglected bible and read the story of Joseph and Mary losing Jesus on their trip to Jerusalem when he was 12 years old, and I meditated on that. Big deal. It was nice and I drew important meaning from it at the time. I may not believe what these intended for me to believe or to feel the way they intended for me to feel, but they were useful tools in getting me in touch with myself and myself in touch with here now.
In the same way Lisa and I relate to each other differently now than we used to… the way we make love or talk or do things together… this has all totally changed as we’ve aged and matured. So we just go with it. If I fall back into a bad habit Lisa tells me and I fix it. It’s no big deal! I’m far more aware now than I was when we first married. Our love and communion runs at a far deeper and indescribably different level now.
5. As for practices: what moves you? Forget the oughts and musts and shoulds. Instead, ask what is effective? What helps you? If not reading, then what? Music? Meditation? Keeping a journal? Painting? Walking in the woods? What works? For three years I drew my Sophia drawings. They’re completed now. But that was a very spiritual exercise for me. And it wasn’t even really intentional. It just flowed, almost unconsciously and naturally and spontaneously. It just happened. Because we eventually realize all things are spiritual. Even my meeting in the coffee shop this morning. It’s like Brother Lawrence’s classic spiritual book, “Practicing the Presence”… even doing the dishes is a spiritual exercise. That’s what spiritual maturity looks like. Living life fully. That’s essential spirituality. And I think that’s where you are.
I hope this helps.”
And I hope this helps you.