Journey to put God front and center

In the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, writer Elizabeth Gilbert gives up her entire way of life to spend a year … Continued

In the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, writer Elizabeth Gilbert gives up her entire way of life to spend a year traveling the world, finding spiritual enlightenment along the way. Julia Roberts, who plays Gilbert’s character in the movie version out this week, apparently found enlightenment of her own through the role, revealing that she has become a practicing Hindu.
 

As Joan Ball asks in a Guest Voices post, “Is it possible to live a life of deep, transformational faith without dropping everything and hitting the road?”
 
In your tradition, what is the aim of the spiritual journey? 

We do religion all our lives and then we come to a place where we ask what it all means. What is religion? What does it matter? What do we believe, honestly? How is it different from what we have been taught? It is not a comfortable place to be, but entering the “dark night of the soul” causes us to take a journey we did not know we would take, and the aim is to find answers to questions that may or may not be readily available.

Doing religion is different than finding one’s spiritual core, one’s center. Growing up for example, I was taught that one does not question God. That posed a problem as there were plenty of things I noticed growing up that I did not understand and I wanted and needed answers.

I began a spiritual journey. I didn’t need to travel literally, but I did have to travel metaphorically. Finding God means, often, moving.

Faced with wondering about questioning God, I began to read the Bible for myself and noticed that the psalmists questioned God all the time. “Why are you afar off?” they asked? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The questions were clear and, as far as I could see, those who asked the questions had not been doomed and damned to hell. Rather, it seemed that their freedom to ask questions deepened their relationship with God. I began to ask questions; I entered just one phase of my spiritual journey.

The more we “do religion,” the more we stand to lose God. Religion and God seem to be polar opposites in so many cases. God is loving and inclusive; religion is judgmental and exclusive. God is merciful; religion is wont to show mercy. The disconnect between religion and God becomes bothersome, as a boil that will not burst, and the spiritual journey begins to make the pus stop accumulating, to make the boil burst of all of the religious toxins that have blocked us from God. We begin, or I began, to travel away from the source of the infection. Looking for God for me meant I no longer wanted to be infected with untruths that were passed off as Truth.

The journey is spontaneous and a little impulsive. Once we get to God, or think we do, what? Who is this God? No cleric, no priest or pastor can tell someone who God is. One has to find God in his or her own way. One has to go deep inside, become quiet, and listen for the “still, small voice” that is God. It is such a private journey, such a difficult journey, involving us trekking through a brutal wilderness made by human experiences.

I am United Church of Christ. I am also African American. Neither of those facts, however, have a thing to do with the aim of my spiritual journey. The aim of the journey I am on now is to find out who God made me to be, what God wants me to do. My journey has come in stages; I traverse a few miles, and then, exhausted, I have to stop and absorb what I have received. The aim, though, is to get through the wilderness made thick by life, by religion, and by the contradictions I have felt between what I think God to be and how God has been represented by religion and its dogma and doctrine.

I remember someone talking about “self actualization” and being concerned because the phrase seemed to leave God out. The aim of my spiritual journey is to get God front and center, and then to live my life with God in that position, not on the periphery and not hidden somewhere.

The goal is not to be “holy.” The goal is to be in alignment with this God whom I think we will forever try to understand.

Susan K. Smith
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  • regello

    Boy, what ever happened to Erin Brocovich? I wrote to Julia Roberts’ agent some years back, talking about an interview she gave in which she complained about the lack of good woman-driven scripts. After seeing that, I decided to pitch the agent with a script I had about a female congressional aide who goes to work as an apprentice carpenter in high-rise construction in order to crack a union bribery scandal. He even forwarded it to her production company. But they curtly sent my letter back via the agency, including the usual admonition about not reading unsolicited material. If you’re wondering what happened to the next generation of all those larger-than-life heroines we used soak up at the movie theatre, I think this is the black hole down which the paradigm has gone. Earth’s climate is disintegrating and today’s A-list actresses are expending their blood, sweat and saliva on the latest reiteration of Waiting to Exhale. It’s confounding. Forget movies about Eleanor Roosevelt, Annie Adams Fields, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and other engines of change. We’d rather watch Julia in an Italian restaurant gorging on pizza, or Winona playing whatever promiscuous character they’ve got her doing now. Such a waste of talent, conviction and conscience. Rosemary Regello

  • pjhransom

    I think part of the confusion, could be the word “religion” which for many has different meanings.Most people tend to association religion with Christianity, which dismisses other religions.I have been studying Spirituality and I know that is is above religion, above science and social creeds. Spirituality is about a love of and understanding of the entire universe, and understanding that life is more than just what is here on Earth, but includes the entire Universe. All life is animate, all life is intelligent. We exist because everything else exists. Everything is One. Therefore Spirituality is about understanding oneself so that one can maintain harmony with nature and self.

  • patois2

    Wow…. sometimes we miss the point altogether. I think that’s why religion as opposed to God tend to be most people’s focus. We latch on to one little thing and pontificate ad nauseum… i think this is exactly why a journey is needed. Though that journey may not be physical, there is something peculiar about leaving familiar circumstances and going elsewhere… we do things we might not have done, meet people we might not have even talked to at “home”… it’s as if the physical removal from all things familiar aids in that process. Spiritual removal is more complicated; that’s probably why so few people actually engage in change of that sort without physical movement. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen… just that it takes oodles of work and patience and clear direction and if you’re easily distracted (look at what she’s wearing in church… he’s divorced… you’re not supposed to do that… says so in the Bible, look an antique mall)… you might not end up where you intended… shoot you might not ever leave your ‘hometown’ or even your driveway if consumed with fear about what’s down the road. But if God’s driving… you try to hold on to the notion that there’s a reason for your journey in general and your location in particular… and try to enjoy at least mosto fhte ride… yeah there’ll be times where you’re not talking to each other and times when you’re laughing till your sides hurt… and like with most trips you learn who you (and other people) are while you’re travelling together…

  • Elisa2

    “The goal is to be in alignment with this God whom I think we will forever try to understand.”I agree. All energy is made of frequencies and all matter is made of frequencies. Thought is frequencies. It is like tuning into a radio frequency lost in a lot of static. You have to draw close, be quiet, and listen carefully to locate it and hear it clearly.

  • Elisa2

    “The goal is to be in alignment with this God whom I think we will forever try to understand.”I agree. All energy is made of frequencies and all matter is made of frequencies. Thought is frequencies. It is like tuning into a radio frequency lost in a lot of static. You have to draw close, be quiet, and listen carefully to locate it and hear it clearly.

  • Elisa2

    “The goal is to be in alignment with this God whom I think we will forever try to understand.”I agree. All energy is made of frequencies and all matter is made of frequencies. Thought is frequencies. It is like tuning into a radio frequency lost in a lot of static. You have to draw close, be quiet, and listen carefully to locate it and hear it clearly.