At my church during the Sunday services we have a time of silence. During these few minutes congregants are encouraged to pray, meditate, reflect, or simply blank the mind. It begins with the ritual ringing of the bell, and ends with singing "Spirit Of Life".
There are a few key words in that song that are deeply meaningful to me: "Roots hold me close, wings set me free!" Think about that for a minute. On the surface, this seems to be a dissonance. How can one be held close and set free at the same time?
I have roots in the midwest: "family values", morality, work ethic. And my wings have set my heart, my mind, and my soul free. The incongruity of these two is resolved only by awakenings. The theme for last Sunday's service was "Gradual Awakening". The week before it was "Sudden Awakening".
I've had flashes of insight, epiphanies, numinous experiences. For example, in 2002 I suddenly realized that anger is caused by fear. This came after an incident of road rage on the freeway commuting to work. It was several minutes before my kidneys could remove all the adrenaline that had flooded into my bloodstream. But fortunately there was no physical damage that resulted to either of us angry drivers, and I had time to reflect on the incident later at my desk at work.
The truth that dawned on me and has stuck tight for more than a decade now, was that my sudden, hot anger had actually arisen from fear. But what the heck was I afraid of? That I might be late to work? That somebody would make better time on the freeway than I. That I might not be the best, most skillful, most efficient driver who ever took to the freeways of Northern California? I realized that to address and treat my anger, I had to address and treat my fear.
That was a sudden awakening. But a lot of the time sudden awakenings, conversion experiences, "getting religion" don't last. Hence another of my favorite sayings, "Nothing good happens fast." That's where gradual awakenings come in.
My roots, that is being grounded in the beliefs and values of my upbringing, hold me close. And sudden realizations stick only when they conform to the basic structure of my being. Yet wings: thinking outside the box, learning new things about the world, science, technology, or finding new experiences with people from other backgrounds, other cultures, other religions -- set me free to explore the Universe, both within and outside my own mind.
This is why I can claim that I am still adhering to the guiding principles I was taught growing up in a conservative Baptist church, while I embrace the wide, intellectually stimulating world of Unitarian Universalism. I am, indeed, a follower of Christ. And I'm no longer a fundamentalist. I still believe that Jehovah is real, but that "Jehovah" is only a name I've given "him". He could be The Almighty, She could be The Goddess, It could be the Universe. It doesn't matter. What matters is there is a Spirit that loves, that is benevolent, that is forgiving…. that is unafraid and therefore, never angry. He, She, It is not vindictive, not jealous, never impatient. In other words, something I want to be.
This, of course, requires me to reject the inerrancy of the Bible. Narrower, more timid minds, those without the assurance that God loves them unconditionally and will never abandon them regardless of their "heresies", find this concept akin to "building a house upon the sand". But in fact, it is the opposite. The sands of Biblical interpretation, exegesis, and historical research shift with time and culture. But "building a house upon a rock" requires something deeper than a superficial trust in a human-produced document with internal contradictions and clear fabrications, viz, inconsistencies among the Gospels, and the Old Testament reference to unicorns.
The faith that was planted, has grown, and is maturing in me sustains me through every delay, detour, and dead-end I encounter on my path. I fear neither disappointment, disaster, nor death when I'm at my best. I'm not always at my best, but even then I don't despair.
"Like it says in the Bible, 'It came to pass…' See, it didn't come to stay; it came to pass."
My roots will always and forever hold me close, while my wings set me free!!