I want to be really honest in these blog posts. Some of what I share will be shocking and threatening to some. This is not my intention, but I have to be vulnerable and acquaint you to salient experiences of my own journey that have shaped me. None of my posts are meant to attack anyone or any institution. I am not on an offensive against the Christian faith. These blog posts are simply my story, especially the story of transformation that is occurring within me because of what I am experiencing in this life.
When I worked towards getting a Masters of Divinity degree at a conservative evangelical Christian institution back in the late 90’s, they warned me that categorically, I could not trust my own experience. I was to put my trust in Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone.
It’s ironic to look back and consider that the only experience they said I could trust was my experience of being divorced. This experience alone branded me a problem in the eyes of conservative evangelical church world. I felt like Hester Prynne, walking around with a Scarlet “D” emblazoned on my chest.
This problem, for which I was supposedly eternally forgiven because of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement on the cross, was something that I could not get rid of in this life. It was marker of my tainted experience, warning local churches that I was damaged goods, not fit to accurately interpret Scripture and preach from their pulpits.
This core principle of evangelical Theology, that Scripture alone and its correct interpretation are the only things that can be trusted in this world, held me captive for a very long time.
I don’t want to unpack all the ins and outs of this part of my journey here. But, suffice it to say, that I felt the shackles and chains of Sola Scriptura fall off when I learned that trusting the lessons I gain from my own experiences is a key aspect of living the contemplative, mystical life.
Conservative evangelical Christianity made me believe that I was disconnected from God because of my sin, unpardonable sins like divorce. But hallelujah, Jesus did all the real work necessary for us to re-connect to God and get to Heaven when we die. Our job here on earth is to simply believe in the work that Jesus accomplished and try our best to live out the lessons he taught us. As we do this well, the Holy Spirit helps us and others see and believe and follow in the same way. Those who get it and obey, eternal reward. Those who don’t get it and disobey, eternal damnation. Somehow, all our efforts add up to jewels in our crowns and determine our place in Heaven one day.
All of this religion became burdensome and life sapping. It seemed like the same power games of meritocracy that humans have always played to determine who is the in crowd and who is out.
Enter, contemplative mysticism and wisdom teaching that is as old as the church itself. New teachers helped me see life in a different way and gave me practices to validate it as I experienced it. I began to see the life of Jesus as a blueprint, a model for how to live and a reminder that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, fully connected, and equipped to manifest the divine here in our own flesh.
I no longer just read about and tried to believe Scripture, waiting on the Holy Spirit to empower and validate my existence and worthiness to perform certain roles in the church. I was given tools and practices that began to transform my life and help me to make Heaven wherever Hell is found.
Instead of trying to overcome my shortcomings and failures, and working harder to stop sinning and merit favor from those who had power and control in this world, I let them begin to teach me. My own sin and shortcomings also became teachers helping me grow and see the truths that Jesus was trying to teach us all. I became disillusioned with simply reading the Bible and trying harder, waiting on the Holy Spirit to empower and validate me in some whimsical fashion for service in the church.
I began to engage in practices of meditation, like Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer, contemplative walking, journaling and spending time in nature. I learned to listen deeply to people who are not like me in small circle groups. Though they may have different names and are described differently, I imagine that these are some of the things, that Jesus may have engaged in during those thirty years of his life before he began his ministry. I know this sounds heretical.
As a result, I am becoming a person of humility, compassion and forgiveness. I feel as if I’m growing in wisdom and stature, in favor with humanity and with God. I feel free for the first time in my life.
Next week, I’ll share the role contemplative mysticism played in helping set me free from the subconscious belief I held for forty five years, that I am a problem in this country because of the color of my skin. It is a belief that I thought Jesus could take away, but instead it was reinforced by white supremacy and racism infused into Southern life by the influence of conservative evangelicalism church world.