Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Coming Out As "Spiritual"

When I was a boy of five or six years old, invited by her friend, my mother took me to a “church,” and I was gently separated from the adults into a group of children for a “Sunday School” session after which we were rejoined with the adults for the closing of the morning service.

That fairly common description probably summons the experience of many readers as from all appearances this was a traditional Protestant Christian denominational routine. Not until many years later and after much more cognitive development, did I realize just how different in some significant aspects my early experience had been.

As we know our early training begins at the very beginning, which some research would indicate as prenatal and that the filters for whatever messages are planted in us are next to none. As children we take these messages into our subconscious with little critical analysis. These messages are the ideas of our parents, our teachers and society at large.

For many some of the early messages about God and religion had to do with ideas about our essential nature as humans (e.g. sinful, incomplete, unholy) and our relationship with a Supreme Being separate from ourselves and “his” emissaries called prophets and saviors. Many of these messages were and are meant to instill fears in an attempt to direct the development of young people in a way that would reinforce the social order and mores of the day. Obedience to laws and teachings that were foreordained by “The Church” and arose from specific interpretations of handed down writings with their commandments, canons and scriptures are a primary purpose of religious instruction.

Redemption, salvation of the soul, proper moral comportment, assuring safe passage to a heaven beyond or escape from the hot fires of hell were and still are common themes in this instruction. The results have been the committed gathering of strict adherents, those who go through the motions because it is expected by their social group for acceptance, and the creation of refugees that either flee to or create another organized group. In many cases people resolve to avoid contact with anything organized around a religion or spiritual philosophy whether an avowed atheist or not.

“There is no spot where God is not,” along with the song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World” (black and yellow, red and white) are some of the fragments that echo through my brain like the jingles of earlier radio and TV commercials or a popular song. It’s my very personal experience of the power of the subconscious and early messages I received.

Most of my adult life I fit the category of people mostly disassociated from organized religion and yet I’ve always been fascinated with the power of religion and more so the power of belief.  I derived most of my knowledge from books with occasional encounters with spiritual leaders and authors; a lecture by Huston Smith, an authority on world religions, attending talks by Ram Dass, one of America’s great pop heroes to walking in meditation with Thich Nat Hahn, the compassionate Vietnamese Buddhist monk. At 17, I was in a college gymnasium with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the TM movement.

There is another sub-category that some fall within and those are the ones that return to the faith of their childhood as adults with a deeper sense of appreciation for ritual, ceremony, essential principles and the belonging to a greater mission and community.

I am one of those. My early experience with what has been called Religious Science or the Science of Mind, a variant of the several movements and organizations dubbed New Thought continued sporadically beyond those early Sunday school days with a few visits here and there to what are now called Centers for Spiritual Living. Founded by Ernest Holmes in the early 20th century, the basic premise within Science of Mind is that everyone and everything is spiritual right here and right now. The great Law of Cause and Effect is operating unfailingly within an infinite field of Love. There is no heaven or hell but what humans create first through their thoughts. This lies at the very heart of the meaning of “free will.”

Holmes drew from all the great traditions across religions, synthesizing what has been called the perennial philosophy of the ages. He clearly saw that somewhere in each of the great religions, universal truths were revealed. What was distinctive about Holmes is that he knew that knowledge of one’s individual spiritual nature, presence and power was not enough. One has to consciously exercise this knowledge by focusing one’s attention on the greater Cause in order to bring about desired Effects. Thoughts are things in rarified form and materialize into solid form or matter, much as water in gas form condenses to become liquid or freezes solid. In other words, what we think about and feel strongly about, we most often bring about. It is a system, much as we’ve come to understand as the basic structure of science.

A biblical scholar, Holmes reviews all the great lessons of Christ’s teachings throughout his writing and books, one of which is the understanding that what some call God or Creator or Supreme Being is within each of us as well as permeating every bit of the Universe. In a larger sense, we are each already perfect and whole. The extent to which we believe this is the extent to which we can operate through the great Law to our greatest advantage and for the highest purposes of all. Disease, poverty, violence and disharmony are temporary conditions resulting from collective thought that keeps them in place and this can be overcome individually and en masse through an active practice using these principles, meditation and what is called “affirmative” prayer. We've much evidence to that effect when we look at the impact of some of our greatest spiritual teachers and leaders in our immediate past and present. These Holmes would call, as he calls Jesus, the example, not the exception. 

Thousands have been healed and millions positively affected over the course of the last 150 years, beginning with the earliest practitioners in the 19th century. Uniquely American in origin, the New Thought Movement itself has spread around the world and there are 400 groups affiliated with the Centers for Spiritual Living alone. More emphasized as Christian is the worldwide Unity Church though it utilizes similar principles and practices.

Today I enjoy participating in a community of people who learn and practice these principles. In some ways I feel that my participation is a “giving back,” for the joy, fulfillment, sense of empowerment and positivity that have been powerful currents running throughout my wonderful life and in no small part a result of this foundational early experience.
And yet, the continued gifts I receive through a more conscious and systematic study and application of scientific spiritual principles as well as being part of an organization dedicated to transforming millions of lives through positive thought and deed are greater than my showing up on a Sunday or any other day of the week.

Just knowing and acknowledging my very real spiritual nature, my goodness, wholeness and capacity for love as expressed through my unique personality and creativity and evidenced by all the experiences I attract in my life is surely gift enough. And knowing that is true of everyone makes all the difference.

Randy Crutcher, EdD is a member of the Everyday Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was contracted as a facilitator at the 2010 Integration Conference for the final phases of reuniting two long divided organizational branches of the world-wide Centers for Spiritual Living movement.