When I was twelve years old I was ordained to the priesthood in my church and called to be a Deacon. At nineteen I was ordained an Elder, issued a ministerial certificate and called to preach the gospel to Spanish-speaking sons and daughters of God in the southwestern United States. When I was in my mid thirties I was ordained a High Priest and called to serve in assorted capacities that required that title.
In retrospect I believe that – as most adults do when their desire to serve results in the bearing of titles, labels and responsibilities – spiritual practice unavoidably becomes defined by whatever “ministry” one connects with. This may be by choice; for example, aspirations regarding a need to serve The Divine in a personal way. Or it may be the result of someone else’s opinion or prompting from which one is asked to contribute time, talents and resources.
This is in fact the fruits of organized religion. Organized religion is essentially represented by a local or global scattering of religious ant piles within which everyone has tasks deemed necessary for the survival of the organization, local or in a larger venue.
A while back I concluded that I cannot remain in either the ministry or the performance ministries of a church.
As a young adult beginning as I stated in my twelfth year, as one sufficiently domesticated in the cultural venue of community and its predominant religion, life as commonly experienced involved fitting in as the more comfortable posture than living in rebellion against the expectations of family and community. Such was safe for me as a young boy and young adult who had been called and chosen by a society for whom being called and chosen was important in life.
In retrospect, I believe that I entered my personal ministry under the influence of a learned tendency to seek refuge from the confusion of our times by giving in to a kind of community nostalgia.
As a grown man and finding myself in a world where all the traditions in which human beings found security are crumbling, I felt the need to seek peace and sanity in an by attempting to return to or remain in a former state of faith. My yearning seemed to be for the inner calm and certitude of my earlier age when I could put absolute and childlike trust in the authority of the Church, and in the ordered beauty of what I accepted as a restoration of ancient religious doctrine.
Institutionally organized religion for the most part believes that its doctrine, covenants and ordinances contain the most profound truths. We are seeing however that the attempt to maintain or revive it is an ineffectual resistance to on-going and inevitable change.
Despite a stubborn resistance to change on the part of most Churches, most shoot themselves in the foot by clinging to religious forms and rituals that no longer convey their original meaning. The language used is not only archaic and cumbersome, but if attempts are made to translate the forms into modern and churchy new-age god-talk, what happens is not unlike what is left when all spices are removed from a savory soup.
Often we want to believe and try to convince ourselves that we do, but our faith has that hollow self-consciousness, since the mind is acting a role untrue to its own inner feeling. You cannot imitate faith. When the forms of belief begin to weaken or become to routine, the effort to revive them is imitation.
Sensing the imitation aspect of religious forms, the inner feeling often expresses its passion with a relating to the stories we’ve heard about Jesus. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
In a Christian manner such a cry could be a prelude to a non-dogmatic “resurrection.” Why? Because spiritual growth depends upon ceasing to cling to any set or prescribed form of life for security.
Forms are not contrary to spirituality but since they are in fact forms, it is their nature to die if they do not move one to a newer form on a path of progression. A fixed and permanent form becomes a monstrosity (think fraternal or temple rituals that are ironclad in their clinging to rigid procedural dialogue and ceremony.) Such forms become nothing more than finite ritual acts aping God.
In my experience, any inner feeling of Spirit uses forms that allow itself to be expressed and revealed through them. When that happens they are both wonderful and necessary. If the forms are treated as “living” expressions and nourishment, they are not exempt from when happens when fragile and tender living things are constantly fondled.
To grasp them is to strangle and kill them. To preserve them in death is to cling to a thing corrupted. This can be profound. One might interpret this idea in the words of Jesus:
“It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away the Paraclete cannot come unto you.”
Perhaps that is why in the bible mythology, after his own resurrection he gave the same warning Mary Magdalene: “Touch me not!” could be equated to Do not cling to me!
To repeat, there is tragedy when Churches worship forms. They deny the original intent of whoever or whatever sourced the forms in the first place. The whole nature of forms is denied by attempts to make them absolute.
Within Christianity in general and organized religion in particular the image and words of Christ himself have been corrupted in the very act of giving them permanent and absolute authority. He has been made into an idol something which must be repudiated.
I am not trying to hurt churches. Churches are people whom I have learned to love.
For myself I cannot be a party to their hurting themselves and others by seeking security from forms which, if understood aright, are crying, “Do not cling to us!”
Insofar as any Church is committed to a desire for and a clinging to authority, permanence, spiritual safety, and absolute guides of conduct, it is clinging to its own death. Staking one’s internal and spiritual hopes on the hope of immortality and a quest for an earned salvation based on worthiness, we tend to an inner emptiness and insecurity which most of us feel when confronted with the transiency, and the uncertainty of human life.
To cling to security is only to cling to oneself, and perish of strangulation.
It would be a silly kind of pride to pretend that we can surrender this particular seeking of safety just by trying to stay on the treadmill of forms. The effort that breaks the circle of self-destruction is an awareness and understanding of its complete futility.
To be aware of this futility is to look through the emptiness within and perhaps grasp a more useful understanding that “Whosoever would save his soul shall lose it.”
Unfortunately we don’t seem to understand that idea within the Church as it exists without running into contradictions at every step. The doctrine, covenants, dogma and ordinances are cluttered beyond hope with sentiments, prayers, and hymns conceived in the state of anxious grasping to forms.
Whoever tries to suggest a healing acceptance of fear within the framework of the Church is again beset by contradictions, since in all its official declarations and formalized preachings the Church is either threatening with penalties or consoling with promises.
Church claims to be the best way to God is not only a mistake, it’s a manifested symptom of its own anxiety. But to insist— biblically and often in ignorance of other revelations—that one’s supremacy argues a certain inferiority complex characteristic of all authoritarian churches based on performance.
From an authoritarian point of view, the leadership ministries reflect the same egoistic afflictions for individuals. I have known and can name serval who are men and women of wonderful humility. Others succumb to the temptation of being led to the cliff by The Adversary where whether they intend it or not, their assumption of that office usually becomes, in the eyes of laymen and the general public, a claim to spiritual authority and moral superiority.
Beyond doubt there are priests who speak with true authority and who are morally superior. But to claim such gifts impairs the quality of their words and efforts. Even when the claim is tacit, it may become a stumbling-block to those who mistakenly cling to authority in their quest for security.
The expectation that every church authority be a moral exemplar is an aspect of that unfortunate the overriding moral self-consciousness which has afflicted the Western world. It is only the temptation to be self-righteous – even hypocritical – that often becomes the fruit of publically trying to be good; posing, as it were.
Sanctity not being moral in and of itself. It is in loving The Divine in whatever form the Divine is experienced. Moralism which condemns any human being simply adds to the sense of fear and insecurity which prevents loving.