Reflections by Jerry Webber

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Real in Reality

I'm usually not too interested in "reality" television. Most days my life has enough reality without having to live someone else's reality vicariously. Most folks probably feel that way, too. For most of us, daily life itself is a hand-full.

We have all the reality we can handle, so a part of the human impulse is to find ways to escape that reality, or at least to soften the bluntness of it. We do that through addictions and attachments, hobbies and leisure, overwork and medication.

And very often we find some sort of religious expression to be our escape from the reality of the world. Religious expression very often promises persons an escape from reality, an open door to a better life, or at least to a different life. And if we can't have the better or different life now, at least we know it is promised in some eternal By-and-By. It is part of the appeal that many of us find in spiritual endeavors, a form of escapism which says that it's possible to get around real life now. If not now, it will surely happen when I die.

I am interested in and given to Christian spirituality. I say to folks all the time that a part of this spirituality -- which I believe is reflected in the Christian Gospel -- is awakening to an alternative framework or structure for life by which we live differently in the world, out of a Gospel-paradigm for being and seeing and doing in the world. This alternative paradigm unmasks the illusions of the prevailing "reality" of culture/tribe and liberates us to live soulfully from an inner core where we are intimately connected to God.

Having said that, though, the goal of Christian spirituality is not escape from the world. Rather, the world itself is the context for our spirituality, for our being and seeing and doing.

In other words, the life-giving, soul-connection with God which is at our center is lived out in the real stuff of our everyday lives. Spirituality does not separate us from the real stuff, but immerses us into it in a different, life-giving, healing way. We are not escaping challenges, weaknesses, and shadows, but rather living into them differently.

Frankly, I witness that a lot of people are attracted to spirituality because they see it as the missing link, perhaps the one piece of gnosis that has eluded them for years. To many people, it seems at first blush that a more inward spiritual journey has as its main benefit the escape from responsibility and challenge and shadow. It sounds like a fresh message, an appealing way around the things that life throws at us.

Through the years, for instance, I've run across folks who felt they could serve God very well -- or that life would be really wonderful -- if they could just stay on retreat 24/7. Some of them wanted to run off and join a monastery -- heck, I wanted to do that in one extreme season of my life! -- as if that were the solution to the difficulties of their lives. Others just wanted to go on perpetual retreat, or attend every conference, workshop, or class possible to find answers for the realities of their lives. In all, the goal for many people is to escape life as it is, not be more immersed in it.

The Church and most religious systems of belief tend to perpetuate this idea of escape from reality. Our preaching and teaching envisions the world as evil and problematic. We sing, "The world is not my home." We're convinced that if we could get to a state of "holiness" and "pure spirit" we could get around reality.

Our desire for prayer can too often be rooted in our desire for a better life, our desire to get around the reality of our life-circumstances.

Our concern for heaven can be an antidote for our fears about the reality of death.

Our longing for healing as the eradication of sickness causes us to sidestep the teacher and companion that often is experienced as disease.

When we escape reality, though, we may also be escaping God. A few years ago I heard Paula d'Arcy say, "Most often, God shows up as life."

Thomas Merton wrote, "Reality itself is God's epiphany."

And these words, first heard thirty years ago from one of my mentors, have rooted me since: "Whatever you believe, if it won't play in a cancer ward or in a shoddy nursing home, it's not the Gospel."

Spirituality is not an escape hatch. It roots us in the Real, Who is revealed in reality. It is a connection to and attentiveness to what is, not to what might be or what we hope one day to be.

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