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If anyone were to ask me about my relationship with God, I would have to answer definitively… it’s complicated.
And I mean that in a good way. Particularly in the way that requires long-term commitment, a daring sense of vulnerability, and rigorous self examination. So many times we want a love affair with the mystical that has the predictability of a Hollywood romance, with its euphoric highs and heart-wrenching lows leading to the tidy denouement. Thank God (pun intended) that our relationship with the Unknown Essence, the mystic connection that unites us with the Eternal, this Divine Dance, is nothing so predictable.
On the Badasht III: Visionaries album, the song Cool documents this Dance for me, at least for now. Obviously the song is autobiographical. Although, most of it, at least a lot of it, is based on honest reflections on the nature of this relationship with God we call religion, it is also a response to some observations of conversations I’ve had with others.
Often times I have found myself in dialogue with people about God, religion and such, and have heard many interesting things. And so often when I have conversations about those relationships with people or in particular as to how it relates to religion, I usually hear a couple of things consistently: “I’m not really religious, I’m spiritual.” “I don’t really get into the practice of “organized” religion… I don’t really do a group thing.”
I never understood what any of that really meant — other than “I wanna hide out and be spiritual by myself and not with other people and not in any organized type of way.” As I said earlier, this is autobiographical mostly, so please don’t take offense. What do people mean when they say things like that? Know what I think? They’re just tired of relating to religion the way their grandparents did.
Basically, we all want to throw off the shackles of borrowed tradition and faith, right? In my opinion, that questioning of tradition is an essential requirement given to us by a loving Creator that wishes to be sought out in an authentic way. We all need to take a long hard look at our traditions and the prejudices that come with them, and decide for ourselves what we believe – not just blindly accept what others have told us. So take off that tie and long skirt and start the journey:
This is the day when dogmas must be sacrificed in our search for truth. We must leave behind all save what is necessary for the needs of today, nor attach ourselves to any form or ritual which is in opposition to moral evolution. Search untiringly for truth and reiterate the teachings which harmonize with the crying needs of the hour. This will be the cause of the progress of man… – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 67-68.
I certainly understand this. I grew up in a world of Baptist preachers and deacons immersed in the rich traditions of African American religious practice. And although I found and still find that tradition stable, fulfilling and grounding, I also observed a pulse in the practice that moved me to place myself in the broader community of humanity and share sacred space. I always found my soul intrigued and touched by people that I read about and met that practiced different configurations of spirituality. In other words, no matter how cool my faith was for me personally, it was never enough just to satisfy merely my own soul. I had to truly embrace the reality that our destinies are inextricably bound together in a web of mutuality. And this comes from understanding that relationships have requirements.
I can’t “hide out” and be spiritual. Spirituality comes from within, sure, but it also comes from community, where we interact with and struggle with and love our fellow human beings. I am beholden to the Creator as well as creation. I’ve always looked at God as being this entity that I’m kind of beholden to, that gave me a song, and that loves me. The joy that relationship gives me moves me to reach out to other people on this planet because really that’s where the spirit of God’s love resides — in the midst of that relationship. And I know that is a murky, not-so-simple space in which to live, but we’re not making movies here. We’re living life.
So basically, shake off grandma’s religion, make this journey your own, and by all means make it cool.
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