Sunday, September 2, 2007

Sunday Thoughts - For Free!


"Church Picnic" by Faith Ringgold
Image Courtesy of allposters.com

Today the new church my girls and I have been attending met at the pastor's home. As they are our next-door neighbors, the jaunt to church this morning was an especially quick one! They are a young church that commonly meets in a school, but when holidays come round and folks are out of town, they'll often save money on the rent of the space and instead meet in their home.

This was their once-a-month family meal as well and so we all brought a dish to share. We had some time for a lesson this morning, but more time was spent in fellowship than anything else and it was quite lovely.

One conversation I had with a young woman who works in a new age bookstore was interesting. I asked her how she felt about working there and if she felt she had a strong witness (not pressing people into believing what she believes, but just by her life and choices, is what I mean). She said she loves working there, but that she did not feel like she had a strong witness. I told her I could understand. I used to follow a number of new age/pagan paths for 10 years before I came back to Christ. I felt then that my beliefs were generally the same as any other person on a spiritual path and that mostly it was just that Christians were less tolerant.

We spoke, too, of what changed my mind about that. The answers to that are really too long and numerous to put into one post, but a few major things are these:

1) On the surface it seemed that most world religions were the same. It is true that many share many of the same philosophies. But the deeper I went into any other religions, there were places where I stopped short and could go no further. Truth was not revealed to me there.

2) I was burdened by many teachings that told me that my enlightenment or salvation was up to me. People speak lightly, often, of good or bad karma, but the tally list was too much for me to bear. One teacher spoke to me about my chakras being so "clear" and said I really ought to join him in a teaching weekend that included sitting 10 hours in meditation. "Is this what it takes?" I wondered? I knew I didn't have that in me. I wasn't prepared to separate myself so much from the world. Did that condemn me to another go-round at life? I wanted to be a wife and mother. Would that cause me to be too attached and therefore cost me another lifetime when I may, instead, then choose the life of a monk or teacher and at that point work my way closer to nirvana?

God shows me through His law what He required. And then He showed me through the sacrifice of Christ that He understood that the tally would be too much for me to bear: that I could not do it - in any lifetime - and that He would do it for me. It was more than sweet relief to me!

3)Finally, one thing I saw repeated in the new age community again and again was just how expensive it seemed to get those "secrets" to enlightenment! Here, as in the other places I have lived, I will pick up the local new age newspapers/magazines from time to time. Often they will have local events listed that are of interest to me because of our vegetarian diet or alternative health practitioners that we like to use: homeopaths, acupuncturists, massage therapists etc. But I see over and over, as I did years ago when I was exploring the new age world, the plethora of speakers, healers, channelers, etc. that charge exhorbitant amounts of money to reveal their "secrets" to you. Often it seems, they will write an interesting article - or even book - that will reveal tidbits of their knowledge, but in order to learn more that they know (and never everything, because then how would they make a living?), you will need to attend the day-long (expensive) or weekend-long (even more expensive) seminar. See for yourself! Pick up a local, new-age publication and see what enlightenment is costing these days!

The young woman I was telling this to today found this interesting and noted that the best-selling items in the store in which she works are things to do with prosperity: candles that have been blessed for prosperity, feng shui items to reflect and bring the buyer prosperity, and classes that teach how to draw prosperity to you. She said that she was raised in a Christian home and never really realized how strong a focus money is in the world.

One day, when I was 27 years old, preparing for my wedding, and working as a receptionist, I saw an add in one of those papers that mentioned that the owner of this small bookstore was also an "Interfaith Minister" and preformed weddings and other duties as such. What was an interfaith minister, I wondered? Where did she go to school? How was she credentialed? What did she know about the world's religions and how was she able to meet the needs of so many beliefs? I was curious and telephoned her. I wondered if I could come down to her shop and just talk with her a bit to find out some of these things. Yes, of course! She would be delighted to meet with me and it would only cost me $50.00 an hour! I must admit I was a bit dumbstruck. I was still curious, but also close to broke and asked her if she would, perhaps meet with me for half and hour since that was all that I could afford. She agreed and I did meet with her. But the niggling thoughts remained: How many Christian ministers would charge me $50.00 an hour to share their faith with me? Why was it that only the wealthy seemed to be able to afford the teachings of the gurus and therefore the "secret" of salvation/truth/happiness/life? Why would they want to profit from something that should be free to all?

These were a few of the things I noticed in my time and travels away until I returned, the prodigal daughter. Sometimes, when I think of those ten years away, I cringe a bit with regret. I do wonder at the walk I could have had. But the Lord knows me and the way I learn, I suppose! Knowing where I've been and what I know now, I cannot be swayed and know and understand what I believe... and believe it I do.

It is no longer a question of a curious new teaching or a wondering if a particular technique will work in my life for me. I know that first, it's not about me and next, that it's not up to me either. There's freedom in that and it doesn't cost me a thing. It should, but it doesn't. It's grace and it's free.
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