WHAT IS RELIGION ABOUT?From Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir by Joan Chittister (Sheed & Ward), excerpt published in the Ideas In Passing (6/30/08) newsletter.
The Sufi tell of disciples who, when the death of their master was clearly imminent, became totally bereft. “If you leave us, Master,” they pleaded, “how will we know what to do?” And the master replied, “I am nothing but a finger pointing at the moon. Perhaps when I am gone you will see the moon.” The meaning is clear: It is God that religion must be about, not itself. When religion makes itself God, it ceases to be religion.
But when religion becomes the bridge that leads to God, it stretches us to live to the limits of human possibility. It requires us to be everything we can possibly be: kind, generous, honest, loving, compassionate, just. It defines the standards of the human condition. It sets the parameters within which we direct our institutions. It provides the basis for the ethics that guide our human relationships. It sets out to enable us to be fully human, human beings.
Religion at its best gives substance to life. Most of all, it enables us to find meaning in life. It gives purpose to the human condition. It sets the human compass toward home. It requires us to be more than we ever thought we could become. It raises our sights beyond ourselves. It sets standards for us that are above the lowest level of the self.
Religion, this great treasure-house of the faith, is the history of our family heroes. It presents us with an historic stream of witnesses from every people on earth who chose the holy, in the face of rejection and ridicule, whatever the cost to themselves. They dared courage, rather than cooperation with evil. They chose love, rather than law. They stood for justice, rather than self-interest. They sought the transcendent, rather than the immediate.
We walk in line with those, religion reminds us, who gave themselves for the great things of God. Doubters themselves perhaps, thinkers always, they clung to faith beyond the institution itself, beyond the “answers,” because there is a place, they knew, where answers end. And it is religion that taught them that.
At the same time, no doubt about it, religion is often religion’s own worst enemy. The tension between religion at its best and religion at its worst drives people from church to church, searching for authenticity. It drives them, as well, from the God of the institution to the God of the spirit within. When religion makes itself God, when religion gets between the soul and God, when religion demands what the spirit deplores—a division of peoples, diminishment of the self, and closed-mindedness—religion becomes the problem.
Then spirituality is the only valid answer to the cry of the soul for the kind of life that makes life possible.
I'm glad you all liked this. Note that if you want more, you can get Sr. Joan's weekly email newsletter with excerpts from her writings by simply going to http://www.benetvision.org/index.html and signing up for "Ideas in Passing" (currently in box in top left column on her Home Page).
This week's "Until Now Rules Are Necessary" is another keeper. It includes this powerful passage:
Life is very short. To get the most out of it, we must begin to attend to its spiritual dimensions without which life is only half lived. Holiness is in the Now but we go through life only half conscious of it, asleep or intent on being someplace other than where we are. We need to open our eyes and see things as they exist around us: what is valuable and what is not, what enriches and what does not, what is of God and what is not. It may be the neighborhood we live in rather than the neighborhood we want that will really make human beings out of us. It may be the job we have, rather than the position we are selling our souls to get, that will finally liberate us from ourselves. It may be what we do rather than the prayers we pray that will finally be the measure of our sanctity.from The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages by Joan Chittister (Crossroad)