In her book Christianity after Religion Diana Butler Bass speaks of the ways in which institutional Christianity is giving way to a more open and experiential forms of faith. In this new vision of what it means to be Christina there is much more room to borrow from other faith traditions and practices, especially eastern forms. Some of us are more open than others, but the point is that we can learn from others. Bruce Epperly again picks up on that premise and focuses specifically this week in his reflections stimulated by his own reading of Diana's book on some of those practices. Take a read and offer your own thoughts on spiritual practices. What do you make of Bruce's suggestions?
Dancing with Diana – 6 – Glorious Multiplicity
Bruce G. Epperly
Last week I reflected on my own journey into spiritual multiplicity. I am deeply rooted in the Christian faith – once a Baptist, always a Baptist! – but also influenced by Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and new age thought. Deeply at home as a pastor and spiritual leader in the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I still find inspiration and healing in Reiki healing touch and the insights of the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and skeptics and agnostics. I practice a creative synthesis of intercessory prayer, centering prayer, imaginative prayer, lectio divina, biblical affirmations, and Reiki and transcendentalism. My Christian practice of breath prayer is influenced by Buddhist and Hindu breathing practices, such as those taught by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I see great similarity between my Christian breath affirmations:
I breathe the Spirit deeply in
And blow it gratefully out again
And, Thich Nhat Hanh’s:
I feel calm
In the early decades of the twenty-first century, multiplicity has characterized spiritual journeys. According to Pew Center, 30% of North Americans participate in multiple religious traditions. My current congregation, a mainstream Disciples congregation, sponsors yoga and tai chi classes. I have given classes in Reiki healing touch at a variety of congregations and denominational conference centers. I have taught scores of pastors ways to integrate Reiki with their liturgical and pastoral healing practices.
In some ways, this is not new – Christians have always appropriated the best of surrounding cultures. The New Testament is written in Greek, not Hebrew, and Greek philosophical terms are just as definitive of early Christian theology as the wisdom of Jesus’ Hebraic parents. John’s Gospel speaks of the Logos (Sophia) as the creative force of the universe, enlightening all humankind. The apostle Paul quotes Greek poets, with appropriate recognition, in his identification of God as the reality “in whom we live and move and have our being.” Early Christian philosophers proclaimed that “wherever truth is found, God is its source.”
Paul’s words in I Corinthians provide an insightful basis for Christian affirmation and use of practices from other faiths. “All things are lawful for me but not all things are helpful.”(6:12) Paul believed that Christians can use food sacrificed to idols, provided their practices don’t lead more impressible Christians astray. As the dynamic reality moving through all things, divine wisdom is found throughout the varieties of religious experience and practice. The issue for Christians is creative and faithful integration. Several years ago, I was inspired to write a book on Reiki healing touch – Reiki Healing Touch and the Way of Jesus – as a result of my observations that many Christians practiced global spiritual and healing techniques without building bridges with their Christian experience. This led to a type of spiritual fragmentation in which their worship, mission, and prayer was disconnected from practices such as Reiki, Buddhist meditation, yoga, and Native American religious rituals.
I believe that the universal revelation of God in Christ calls us to bring our various practices together in holistic religious experiences. In coming out of the closet as practitioners of multiple spiritual practices, we deepen our own spiritual lives, find companions on the journey, and make a commitment to be spiritually accountable. Multiple spiritual practices change religious traditions, making them more global in perspective. They also change the practices themselves. Christians may practice silence and Buddhist prayer walking, and this may transform their times of devotional reading and intercessory prayer. Moreover, non-Christians are also transformed by their creative synthesis with the wisdom, energy, and insights of Christian communities.
We still need to be discerning and at times critical. We need to avoid practices that tempt us to otherworldliness, body denial, or turning away from historical and political involvement. We also need to balance the radical acceptance of certain Buddhist traditions with the spiritual unrest characteristic of prophetic consciousness and Jesus’ own dynamic faith. Acceptance, for Christians, is the recognition of “what is” and not apathetic contentment with injustice. God is intentional and balances God’s own vision of the world as it can be with the world as it currently is.
In conclusion, let us affirm that we can grow as Christians by learning from other religious traditions. Their practices and philosophies can enliven and deepen our faith. In sharing our practices – centering prayer, healing touch, anointing, hospitality, lectio divina, imaginative prayer, affirmations – we also contribute to the growth of people from other faiths.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy 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 Patheos.com. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.