Saturday, September 14, 2013

How Do I Know I Know Grace?

I’ve had a lot of responses to my several messages about the tension between my personal growth, while on my solitary spiritual path, and living my life within combinations of group or pluralistic settings, which is where I personally receive my spiritual sustenance. Comments like:
  • ·      “Can’t I just go out and sit in the woods where I feel at one with Nature?”
  • ·      “I get this feeling of the Truth of the Spirit while I’m in church on Sunday – the services are always so uplifting.”
  • ·      Or my 98-year old aunt who went to a church where the only music was a cappella congregational singing: “It wasn’t a real church service, Donnie. There was no music. Church without music isn’t church.”

I think people are looking for a spiritual experience - positive, familiar, uplifting – and they associate those feelings with the concepts of Salvation and Grace.
Some things I just know. And I know I know. How? I just do. It’s the difference between the two Greek words for “know.” One is oida, as in Mary “knows” arithmetic. The other is ginosko (from which we get gnosis), as in Mary “knows” me.
Gnosis: It’s not a rational knowing. It’s a visceral knowledge. I know (oida) I’m trying to discuss what I cannot explain and it’s hard. I’m trying to put into words a Truth I have experienced and a Reality that has transformed me. But, for me, this Truth is the essence of Grace.
Many comments I received described how religious or church experiences are the “spiritual community” of choice. I truly understand where these subscribers are coming from and I am also very wary of the “emotions of apparent grace” that many were trying to describe: feelings of euphoria; feelings of confidence; assurance from their “knowing” (oida) the truth of the Pauline Gospel – Jesus died for me, I believe in Him as my Lord, I have nothing to fear for I am saved from eternal damnation.
Underneath this discussion is the tension between Love (Grace) and Fear (Egoistic Thinking).
Let me explain.
My experiences have led me to trust the quiet small-group-sense of grace I enjoy (at least most of the time). As I stated last week: The Holy Spirit touches me through the words of honest sharers within discussions of accepting groups– be they formal or informal. That’s where I come to grips with me. It is where I hear compassionate honesty. It is where I feel safe to share myself honestly. Hearing honesty and sharing honestly – I desperately need both.
Small groups. Honesty – sometimes rather brutal. Quiet. Non-Judgmental and Accepting. Safe enough for me to honestly reveal the real me. That is where I often experience Grace.
However, Grace is not some kind of intellectual knowledge that dispels fear.  That description of “grace” is dogma and its fear-dispensing quality is very temporary. Grace is not a temporary emotional euphoria. It is a quiet, confident knowing that “all is as it should be – right now for me.
There are groups that excel and thrive on their ability to create a manufactured emotional high. Two that often come to mind for me are pre-game pep rallies and political conventions. I think I could also make the same case for mega-church productions with 100-voice choirs and choreographed big-screen videos. The aim – produce an intense emotional response from the audience, and people get addicted to these short-term emotional highs. Watching these professional productions is like watching a Broadway production of Les Miserables – when it’s over, you’re ready to grab a pitchfork or musket and march forth into battle for freedom, truth and justice. It’s a truly wonderful, but very short-lived emotion.
This kind of manufactured emotional high does not dispel fear. It only temporarily covers it up with a flood of emotion.
But my experience has shown that’s not how spiritual growth really works. I may be mistaken, but I cannot recall any instance in the Bible where true growth or insight came from emotional, orchestrated, mass-produced tugs at our heart-strings. From Moses (alone on the mountain) to the prophets (alone in the wilderness), to John the Baptist (living alone in the wild eating locusts and honey), to Jesus (fighting his demons during his solitary 40-day fast) to Paul and his private “revelation” on the road to Damascus – all these were where the spirit of the Lord came to them. The only exceptions I can think of are Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem (on Palm Sunday) where the crowd’s euphoria lasted about 4 days before the fear of Roman authority took over and everyone dissolved into the shadows. Or the reputed experience of Pentecost as reported by Luke in the Book of Acts (Chapters 1-2) – a highly stylized and very dubious historical event, since virtually no other New Testament writer mentioned it.
Spiritual growth, Grace and Truth – all this comes to me where I hear compassionate honesty and where I feel safe enough for me to share myself honestly.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#2 September, 2013
Copyright, 2013

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