Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dancing with Diana – 5 – Multiplicity in God, Multiplicity in Practice: An Autobiographical Sketch (Bruce Epperly)

In her book Christianity after Religion, Diana Butler Bass suggests that the new spiritual awakening that seems to be taking root in our midst has a strong interfaith component.  She writes that in the past Awakenings it has been Protestantism that has experienced revitalization, but this awakening is being felt across the religious spectrum, as participants in these traditions "pay renewed attention to the spiritual dimensions of their traditions, emphasizing communal identity, faith practices, and experiential belief -- often over against authoritarian leaders and inflexible religious structures" (p. 244).  

Bruce Epperly is a good exemplar of the new spiritual realities that are rooted in a specific faith tradition but are fed by other traditions.  My own practices are much more traditional than Bruces, but stimulated by his reading of Diana's book, Bruce offers a sketch here of his life and he he came to imbibe a multiplicity of spiritual practices and how that allowed him to be a Christian.


Dancing with Diana – 5 – 
Multiplicity in God, Multiplicity in Practice: 
An Autobiographical Sketch
Bruce G. Epperly

Multiplicity be thy name!  I am one of the 30% of North Americans who follow multiple spiritual practices.  In fact, I am a Christian as a result of spiritual multiplicity.  As a preteen, I rejected Christianity.  My body went to church, but that’s about all.  I found the church my family attended spiritually and physically stifling.  I literally felt suffocated every time I attended: there was no room for questions or doubts.  Everything was part of God’s plan of salvation which ironically was God’s plan of damnation.  The way of the cross led home but any other path led to hell-fire and brimstone.

In addition, I was spiritually and culturally reeling.  For the first time I met people of other faiths and no faith at all.   Both groups seemed content with who they were and saw no reason to come over to my conservative Christianity.  In response, I went on a spiritual journey throughout high school.  My body stayed in San Jose, CA, but I journeyed with Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman; I ventured to unknown lands with Bilbo Baggins, Frodo, and Gandalf; and I flowed with the Tao and sailed with psychedelics.  By the time I made it to college, I was a full-fledged spiritual seeker, designing my faith as I went along.

In my first semester in college, I realized that I needed to take a new path – I needed to give up marijuana, LSD, peyote, and hashish, and find a path with a heart (Carlos Castaneda) and a life-transforming practice.  On an October afternoon in 1970, I learned Transcendental Meditation at a fraternity house, turned ashram, in Berkeley, CA.  From then on, I became an out and out hybrid, initially with no spiritual home, though later I found my spiritual center in the life and teachings of Jesus and the wisdom of process theology.

I am a spiritual hybrid and my hybridism is not unusual either among pastors or in the lives of their congregants.  Perhaps you share some of my spiritual adventures, grounded in my belief that wherever truth and healing, under whatever name, God is present.  Here are some of the spiritual practices that shape my life.  Many are done daily, others more sporadic but also transforming.

  • Morning quiet time, using forms of Transcendental Meditation and Centering Prayer (breath with a personal prayer word).  
  • Morning walking prayer, 2 to 4 miles, using a combination of mindfulness, breathing, Christian affirmations, energy work, and intercessory prayer.
  •  Daily practice of provide distant or hands on reiki healing touch.
  • Daily blessing of encounters and persons.
  •  Devotional reading, often from Taoism, Thich Nhat Hanh, or the Dalai Lama.
  • Self-reiki treatments on a daily basis. 
  •  Lectio divina and imaginative prayer/visualizations.

Along the path, my life has been enriched by ventures in Attitudinal Healing (Jerry Jampolsky and Susan Trout), A Course in Miracles, akido, and Zen meditation.

The multiplicity of spiritual practices can be experienced in many ways, far beyond what I have described.  You simply need to find your own heart-felt path and integrate it with your current spiritual journey. What spiritual practices of action and contemplation inspire you?  Let this be the first step on the adventurous dance of spiritual transformation that will enlarge your spirit, whether you are Christian, seeker, or person of another faith tradition.

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the PerplexedHoly Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age.  His most recent text is Emerging Process:  Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church.   He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith Lectionary and He may be reached at for lectures, workshops, and retreats.

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