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LOVE and the Religion of Life

April 21, 2013
Universal ♥

Universal ♥ (Photo credit: Juliana Coutinho)

“God comes to us disguised as our life” – Paula D’Arcy

The limits of religion

Religion has tended to segregate God and believers within institutional ghettos. Most religions also claim that their particular divinity (or whatever idea of it) is the only true one for the whole of humanity. They therefore claim universality for what they profess, but fail to recognize that the limits imposed by their religious institution deny the same. A truly universal divinity, standing on equal relation to the whole of humanity, would not be such if bound by a religious institution and its particular saving formula. All religions have limitations, be they demographic, cultural, social or other, and as such they usually represent only a portion of the world population. In spite of this and on the basis of their particular idea of God, they usually see the world as divided between enlightened and non, faithful and infidels, blessed and cursed, loved and unloved, saved and damned. Of course they usually are the “blessed ones” on the winning side, while it’s the others who sit in darkness. The problem is that any divinity abiding by such classifications would in effect be no greater than the institution promoting them.

I am a Christian, and yet I have struggled with the exclusive aspect of Christendom for a long time. I became a Christian because in a moment of despair I cried out to whichever god could save me and Jesus showed up. Following that I naturally embraced what Christianity taught me, but so much of it just did not make sense, did not match the Jesus I had encountered. There were some nagging question which traditional Christianity could not answer, and their attempted answers seemed so contrary to the very nature of the Christ I had known.

According to the gospels Jesus said “if I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me… I am the way the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father except by me… I am the door”, etc. These are universal claims, so how could the conditions be so narrow as to be represented by only one religion? They would no longer be universal! If Jesus’ work was of such magnitude, how could it be confined to the narrow parameters that most Christian institutions place on it, “if you believe as we say you go to heaven, if you don’t you are damned for ever!” Obviously there is some misunderstanding here, as he’s much bigger than that, much fairer and loving that what a single religious institution can deliver.

Jesus and religion

Jesus is the picture of a God who loved humanity so much that he became one with it, related to it in a most direct, intimate way and thereby also corrected human misunderstandings about his nature. Jesus’ extreme sacrifice, as well as his forgiveness of those executing him, demonstrated God’s love and care for everyone, even the worst. His love was indeed a gift without conditions, a truly unselfish one which left little room for the endless manipulation of human religiosity. It was in fact the religious folks who resented him most and finally killed him. Just by being whom he was, he rendered religion obsolete and religious folks could not stand the realization of it. Human religion can in fact be the greatest hindrance to a true understanding of God, a most distorting lens upon the nature of God, something that drives folks away and separates them, pitting them one against the other. Even of heaven it says there will be no temples there, so no religion, no need for it there (Rev 21:22).

The only religion, for lack of a better word, which God seems to be directly responsible for, is life. It is written that life was initiated by the breath of God and in John’s prologue it says that God created it through his logos (word, thought or expression), of which it says: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (Joh 1:4).That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (Joh 1:9). So the logos gave life, and not just the biological process of life, but also a life that is light for every human being ever born. Many have identified the latter with conscience, that “voice within”, the “inner light”that speaks to every human being. Then it says that the light itself became human and lived with humanity (John 1:14).

Some think that Jesus’ main intent was to set up a religion, a church, a priesthood, some new religious traditions of baptism, Eucharist, or some new doctrine on how to be saved, born again, escape hell, purgatory and make it to heaven. Strangely he made only scant comments on these, which have been largely misconstrued and become the source of much discord amongst Christians. The only thing which is hardly misunderstood and most Christian agree on is the type of life Jesus lived, his sample, his love for all, his unmistakable message preached by his actions. Even so, if we consider his recorded words, a fraction of all he said (John 21:25), it is all too plain that Jesus spoke mainly about life.

The LIFE

He referred to himself as the life, bread of life, drink of life, way to life and as having life in himself, like the Father (Joh 5:26). As in John’s prologue, He then said “I am the light… he that followeth me shall have the light of life” (John 8:12) and compared life to light. God, He said, is the light of life and there is yet more life to be had, more light for a life that can transcend this mere existence. Jesus longed to impart this to humanity: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). A measure of Him is already in every human life, but he came to enhance that and reconnect it to the main source. Our life is limited, weak and will soon flicker out, but he’s the tree of life, the socket where our life battery can be recharged at infinity.

Life speaks to us, because God speaks through it. Life is the light and voice of God. Because it is built upon God’s plan, life inexorably leads back to its source, yet without violating free will. Eventually the soul hears His voice, sees the plan and comes to desire life, the connected abundant life, instead of the limited, selfish, independent one. Of its own free will, once matured and gained precious experience, it will embrace the better life that comes from connecting to the source. Then it will be married to God, to life, in an eternal cycle of life that generates ever more life. It is all a process of love, for life comes from love, is sustained by love, propagated by love, and eternalized in love.

Love and freedom

Love implies freedom, for it can only be freely chosen, not imposed. Because of its very nature love must therefore allow the possibility for evil, which is the absence of love. Because it is light and life, love always wins in the end, because anything coming from it will inevitably be drawn back to it, of its own free will. God only needs to wait until the created soul has exhausted its egocentric Iness, becomes weary of it and freely seeks to belong to the greater I, which is actually a we. As Jesus said “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt 10:39). This life is indeed a struggle of the self learning and growing by experience until it comes to its rebirth, not as a self but as a part of the whole, for there alone is love.

Empty loves, empty joys and plenty of void finally lead the self to seek for more, desiring to let go of its own life in order to have that which is more. The lover of all lovers, waits for that “time of love” (Ez 16:8) and finally gathers the soul as a fruit which has ripened. With open arms he waits for that final yes. Because he is love, he can only reveal himself to the soul who freely chooses him. There is no other way, but when the time comes, then the soul receives the whole of him and becomes his bride, a coheir of his riches and greatness. Because God is Love, His greatness is “weak”, so small that it can only be received in weakness.

The person who has not yet come of age (most living humans) cannot discern the destination appointed to it by God. Like a child who cannot understand parenthood, though it benefits from it, humanity cannot understand the divine, though it benefits of the life it derives from it. Humanity, in its initial stage, sees God as totally “other”, utterly disconnected from its present condition and restricts any discourse about him and final destination to the realm of religion. Religious traditions, culture and scriptures thus become the immediate and only indicators of a transition to spiritual maturity, eternal life, salvation, or whatever final outcome one may wish for.

Scripture

Speaking of scriptures, in some religious traditions it is identified as the ultimate revelation of life, but the Bible is merely a testimony to it and not life itself: “ye… search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:38-40). Coming to God is not a religious process attainable through a simple manual, or induced by able preaching, but an encounter orchestrated from on high. It is not something that happens at will because “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (Joh 6:44). Only God does that and at the right time.

Sharing the good news

Those who know have a duty to inform others, as a sort of invitation, but the reality of such an experience can never be imposed. Neither can it be confined within a single religious institution, to be obtained through its particulars formula for life, but will happen within the universal experience of every human in this world. Coming to Him is a direct life experience which happens in response to His invitation, whether it comes through the witness of a book, a person or a “natural” event. God can reach the unreachable because He is intimately connected to them. Somewhat confirming are the increasing number of NDE (near death experience) cases examined in recent decades. There is no qualitative difference in experience between religious and non religious people. Furthermore the life reviews, or self-judgments that people undergo, are always based on love and never on religious grounds.

Jesus did say to go into all the world and preach the good news, that the kingdom of heaven has come amongst men, but He never said that whosoever does not hear about it will be damned to eternal flames. That was invented later, by others and for other reasons. He did say, however, “if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me” (Joh 12:32). The first part was fulfilled in his crucifixion and how the second part happens, the drawing of all men, could never be conditional to his early disciples reaching everyone. If salvation is made contingent on human intervention, on the religious means of some institution, than Jesus will never be able to draw all men unto him. Obviously God is greater than human institutions, though these do have a part and he does invite humans to partake in His work, mostly for their benefit. Thankfully, however, the final fate of every soul still rests on the work of God and not the instrumentality of humans, or we would be in serious trouble.

A universal language from a universal Christ

As the very source of life, God speaks through all expressions of life and cannot be limited to just religion. The apostle Paul put it this way “the invisible things… are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made”(Ro 1:20) God simply speaks through everything. The whole process of life from childhood, to growing up, to marrying, working, raising a family, caring for those who are newly born into it, as well as for those who are soon to depart from it, tells us something. All through life the message will always be the same… LOVE.

Any progress in the direction of love is progress towards our final destination, any reversal will only serve to once again throw us, with even greater force towards that same goal, though perhaps a little more painfully. All through life humans are faced with decisions that are mainly about love, for or against it. All through life humans hear the voice of life (conscience) telling them to choose love. Whether they heed or argue themselves away from it, they do respond by making their own decisions. Whether such choices are truly free or conditioned it doesn’t really matter, for to each the choices are theirs and they will develop accordingly. In the end, all choices will work towards the same goal of Love, because love never fails but always wins. Every soul proceeds from it and it will eventually return to it, of its own free will.

There is nothing that doesn’t speak for God, but we don’t usually listen until we grow ears for it. When we finally do we may then hear him speak through language, art, music, nature and even through inanimate objects: “if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40), “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard” (Ps 19:1-3).

I am reminded of a woman born and raised under an oppressive regime and an equally oppressive religion. In her autobiography she recounts: Jesus helped me trace my life back and realize he was there with me all along even though I did not know him consciously with my five senses. I came to realize that I did feel and hear him with my inner ears. While listening to Beethoven’s song, Moonlight, I discovered Beethoven was one of Jesus’ instruments. About four years ago, during my first meeting with a religious leader, a priest, I asked him, “How can I feel and see God?” He said, “You can see God like the moonlight. The Sun’s light makes the moonlight. You can find him in other humans, as moonlight.” Jesus used the priest as his moonlight. Decades before I knew Jesus and Christianity, I heard Moonlight. The song is one of the most admired songs ever. It is a “portal” to hear and feel the love of God. Jesus came inside me through a song that was inspired by a blind woman and composed by a deaf composer. Just as Beethoven heard and felt Jesus with his inner senses, I too was connected to Jesus through a song that he made to be heard and felt by our inner senses”.

Christ is not the sole privilege of Christian institutions, to the contrary, these tend to misrepresent Him, as this dear woman soon found out. How hollow can in fact be religion and religious talk, and how devoid of God can the pretense of religious institutions be. How full of God is instead life itself, even in its minimal form. Life is in fact the gift, light and presence of God in man, and religion can never adequately represent it. By pretending to, it only shrinks the idea down to human understanding. Even the most elevated form of religious thinking, theology, with its highly technical, rational, almost scientific approach, can be most reductive; all because it portends towards intellectual understanding, instead of seeking to know in the biblical sense, which implies an actual experience of the divine.

Knowing God, who is love, cannot be attained by reason, though it does not exclude it. In its essence it is not head knowledge and that’s why a child, or any childish human, can possibly know it better than the philosopher who seeks it by scholastic means. As Jesus said: “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt18:3). God is humble because love is humble, so he does not coerce but patiently waits for the demise of pride, and the emerging of love and humility. All humans are destined to it and cannot avoid coming to the realization that they know not, but must simply continue to learn and learn and never stop learning to love.

Religious morality, virtue, holiness, self-denial, ascetic practices and the multitude of related observances, seldom produce much that is of real value. It is mostly a case of self-serving practices aimed at fulfilling personal desires for self-justification and obtain an illusion of closeness to God. On the contrary Jesus felt forsaken by God (Mk 15:34), “made himself of no reputation” (Phil 2:7) and failed in every human religious sense. By so doing, however, he won in every other sense and achieved the greatest good. Strangely the way of love is down instead of up, and it is on our way down that we are gathered up.

God is LOVE, the creator, generator, preserver and multiplier of life. Love is the undercurrent of life and life itself. Love is the only religion that’s truly needed and what gives true meaning to any religious endeavor. Without it, is better not to be religious at all.

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