I just finished reading the book Silence of the Heart by Paul Ferrini. It talked a lot, like most of the spiritual books I read, about the inward journey being the place where you find your truth. All of the outward stuff just forces us, if we wise up, to ask those inward questions. When we bump up against something and it makes us go “OWIEEEEE!” we ought to ask ourselves why. That is where we get real answers. That is how we move forward on our unique path to enlightenment.
I went to my grandmother’s funeral a few weeks ago. She was a wonderful woman, who lived a long life and had a lot of experiences. I went to the service hoping to cry and laugh at the stories told about her. But I also knew since she attended a baptist church the sermon would go hand in hand with the celebration of her life.
It’s been a long time since I’ve attended a church like that. I got bumped…big time. In a way I thought maybe I’d conjured up and exaggerated the message, that maybe it was bitterness that caused me to remember only one particular aspect. But no. The only message I took a way from Mema’s funeral sermon was:
If people don’t ask Jesus into their hearts they are doomed to Hell. It doesn’t matter how good they are, all that matters is they allow Jesus to save them. All the other religions are wrong…end of discussion. And since Mema had Jesus in her heart, the only way to see her again is to take Jesus into your heart.
I was squirming in my seat. My stomach was doing flips. A lump was forming in my throat. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run. That is how I felt as I listened to the minister speak. That is what I felt as I was supposed to be honoring my grandmother’s life.
So why did it bug me? Why does this particular bump hurt so badly time and time again? First off, this is my family’s religion. This is their way of life. For a girl who did her best to be pleasing (although I’m sure some might argue this), it really sucks to know that your family’s religion and beliefs tell them over and over that all the good I’ve done amounts to nothing. I can spend years teaching inner city school children and serving food at the homeless shelter but I’m still going to burn in Hell with the worst of them. In the end it only really matters that I’m on the right team. And I’m not. In ways I wish I could go back but I would be deceiving everyone if I did.
Which brings me to my next point. There are so many people I want to shake and say “don’t you see how much of this life, this moment, this world you are missing out on by living a dream.” We build up walls between us and our brothers and our sisters, so that we can stake claim to some plot of land in the afterlife that may or may not exist. I am as convinced that they are wrong as the minister and his congregants are convinced they are right. So I have built my own walls. I have chosen to love my brothers and sisters less. I’ve been prideful and smug. I’m no different than the man that smiled and told a roomful of mourners that unless they followed his ideas they would suffer in a fiery Hell forever.
The truth is we don’t know. None of us actually know what happens when we die. We don’t actually know if there is a God. We take it by faith. We look at our own personal life experience and if we see something that appears as God there we make a choice to believe. The books we read are all just experiences shared by other people just like us. It is not my place to tell you where or how you should find God. It is not my place to tell you that your God is not the right God. I should simply love you for having the courage to seek at all. And I hope to be loved for those reasons as well.