Question of the deeper soul

by Penrod

Some people seek God intensely like Thomas a Kempis, Thomas Merton, Ghandi—millions of people. I’m not one of them, at least not now.

Why not?

It doesn’t interest me much even though I’ve experienced what I consider to be several vital meetings with God; I mean times when I have touched the holy and been connected with the deeper soul. Vital as such experiences are, they not places to stay. Experiences of the holy are surely full of wonder but they are not that much fun over time.

However, I deeply value spiritual life—intentional spiritual life whether personal prayer and meditation or congregational prayer, meditation, and worship. I praise and thank every monk, every monastery, and every other person who devotes himself or herself to prayer to God on behalf of humans. I believe the prayers of these folks sweeten the world far more than we realize.

Perhaps I feel I don’t have to pray and meditate much because these devoted persons are doing it for me and for the rest of us. That they are doing so is very cheering.

There is something else, though. As I see it, I’ve been raised a Christian but I am not and “my people” (a nod to Garrison Keillor) are not very religious. I go to church services and other church meetings not because they are religious or because I think I should be religious. There are many reasons to go that are not religious. The heart of church is the joy of being together with the people there—children, friends, and teachers. I think this non-religious, non-obliged understanding—my attitudes and practices and those of “my people” arise out of a deeply protestant, Jesus-oriented Christianity which, perhaps, you share.

The critical matter for my people is friendship. The heart of Christianity is friendliness. Friendship and friendliness loom above all. Friendship is not the exclusive property of Christians, thank God. None the less, I have been taught from the beginning of my life in a Christian family that friendship is blessed by God and that Jesus is friend to all, including me. Jesus was friends with the disciples, he’s our friend, he is my friend, and he likes us to befriend others. “Jesus loves the little children of the world” and everybody else.

This is not religious. My mother frequently said “Christianity is not a religion.” She meant it was a way and a relationship, a friendship. It was not a matter of religious practice. We were not religious people; we did not see how anyone could believe that there were any religious rituals that would be effective with God. Of course our people were right. This truth is written all over in the Bible. Check Psalm 50 for example. God does not look to us for food from our sacrifices:

If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. (12-15)

The blessings of life are gifts without religious obligation. They create hearts full of thanks and we can freely pursue friendships without discrimination. This means that I am not, we are not, under the law. Our salvation does not depend on knowing some special way to worship or pray that is not available to everybody. Salvation has its source in Grace for all. I am not, no one is, called by law, we are called by grace. Law, like the “sabbath” is made for me and you. And, in its proper place, law, thank God, serves our interests and freedoms wonderfully in a civil society like ours in which religion is transcended.

Penrod says that, in thinking about him, one should think first of Booth Tarkington's Penrod, the boy writer, and then of the mighty pen of Martin Luther with its power like unto the rod of Aaron.

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