Friday, April 29, 2011

Many Paths to God

Path: Worship
Motto: God is a lover who hungers to be loved in return.

It's easy to recognize people who experience God through worship. They sing and smile (or cry) and sometimes lift their arms in the air. They are deeply moved by the spirit and it takes over their entire being. I'm not like that. Vibrant, exuberant expressions of worship make me a little uncomfortable. In fact, I don't even sing much during service. I'm tone-deaf and self-conscious about that so singing causes me to focus more on myself than God. If I just close my eyes and enjoy the music I connect with God much better.

Path: Preaching
Motto: To teach is to learn twice.

These passionate and charismatic teachers seem to channel something greater than themselves when they have an audience. Martin Luther King Jr. had the gift -so do most cult leaders. I'm a great teacher if you want to learn how to take better photographs or dress a wound, but I am not a good spiritual teacher. I'm far too open-minded to consider my religious practice and interpretation of scripture to be the final truth so I lack the conviction necessary to teach.

Path: Discipline
Motto: God is in the details.

These personalities love structure, law and order. Studying scripture and following the rules is extremely important to these people. Monks, ascetics and zealots follow the path of discipline to feel closer to God. I could use a little more discipline in my life that's for sure.

Path: Service
Motto: Serve the Christ in one another.

This is the path of action and charity. These folks go out of their way to help others. They aren't afraid of hard work and give generously. They may or may not not feel comfortable discussing theology, having a heart-to-heart or dealing with eccentric personalities but they will volunteer their resources, time and skills without hesitation when they have something to offer. I would like to start volunteering regularly and know that this is a path I could easily follow.

Path: Love
Motto: If you judge people, you have no time to love them.

It's easy to recognize lovers. They share loving kindness equally with friends and strangers. A rude cashier would probably elicit their empathy rather than anger; they respond quickly to those in distress and spend more time listening with an open heart than offering solutions. You won't hear a lover participating in idle gossip and if they have strong judgements or criticisms they hide them well. Lovers tend to be people-orientated rather than task-oriented and prefer small groups and meaningful conversation. Me? I'm much more task-oriented but I'm getting better at opening my heart and quieting my critical mind.

Path: Contemplation
Motto: Be still and know that I am God.

Those who do follow this path not only enjoy but require daily solitude for their peace of mind. Some people may go on weekend retreats, take periodic vows of silence or, like the Carmelites, devote their lives to contemplative prayer. There is a wonderful Russian Orthodox tradition in which a person retreats alone to a small, sparsely furnished cabin called a poustinia to be with God through fasting and prayer. This sounds delicious and transformative but is completely unrealistic for me today. I do feel ready to start a daily meditation practice though; perhaps just ten minutes daily.


If a spiritual practice requires a lot of effort and brings little satisfaction it probably isn't our primary path. I'm not saying that we shouldn't do things that require effort, or push ourselves outside the box, but maybe we could put most of our energy into doing those things that come most naturally. When we become aware of our talents we can dedicate ourselves to honing those skills. I know my life will become much richer when I start honoring my unique self rather than trying to be everything I admire in others.

I tried for a long time to fit into certain molds. I wanted to share the beliefs of the majority and be as charismatic, dedicated, contemplative and charitable as my role models. It is a completely overwhelming and unrealistic way to live. I no longer believe God wants or needs me to do everything well. God is telling me to be me, and that is enough. I'm eager to discover my gifts and develop them. I've recently experienced a series of meaningful coincidences that lead me to believe God thinks I'm hiding my light under a bushel. I'm also trying to admire the gifts others have to share with gratitude instead of coveting their abilities.

Do you use any of these paths to connect with God? What about art and nature? Do you use your gifts to serve God or are you hiding your light under a bushel?


Anonymous said...

Quite frankly, I use them all. I find that sometimes one is more important for a while, and then another needs more attention. We grow best, I believe when we try to remain open to it all. But one point, you say you can't be a spiritual teacher because you are too open-minded. But that is precisely what a good spiritual teacher is...they teach us to stretch ourselves into bigger pictures, down new paths, to investigate, probe,and question. Least I see it that way. Blessings..

Michelle said...

That is such a good point! I guess I'm thinking from a Christian perspective. I wouldn't make a good Christian teacher/leader because I'd lead everyone to heresy :)

Michael said...


Acts 8:30-35 - 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

31 He replied, "How can I, unless someone instructs me?" So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him.

32 This was the scripture passage he was reading: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

33 In (his) humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth."

34 Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, "I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?"

35 Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him.

2 Peter 1:20 - Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation,

2 Peter 3:16 - Speaking of these things 12 as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.

Brianmpei said...

I experience God in most of those paths and generally I find one works really, really well for me for a season and then I need to take a different path for a while. I'm glad that God comes in Kodachrome and not in monochrome!

Michelle said...

I'm at a place where I'm just hungry to go deeper and I'm acutely aware of the disconnect. Looking for... something to fill this hole.