When Religion Helps Us Grow Up


The other day I was reading through my collection of poems by Mary Oliver and came across this line, which resonated with me so much: 

We do one thing or another; we stay the same, or we
change.
Congratulations, if
you have changed.  

When I read that, I actually got butterflies in my stomach and had to sit for a while, staring at the page, and then I found myself getting lost in the meaning of it for me.  

It really does come down to these two options in life, doesn't it?  We either stay the same or change, and the choice is ours to make which it will be for us.  

Some might argue that there's really no such thing as "staying the same," that we are constantly being regenerated at a cellular level, constantly being formed and informed emotionally, by the changing world around us. 

While that might be technically true, what is truer still is that despite all of the ways that we are being invited to embrace change, we do everything we can to push it away---especially if it threatens our own little world. 

Our religious beliefs often become the very reasons why we choose the familiar over the uncertain, why we settle for less, why we want everything to stay the same, to remain stuck in the past where we feel safe and comfortable.  

In fact, for many of us, our religion can serve as the greatest obstacle to our growth.  

Padraig O'Tuama puts it like this: 

If religion is going to help us, if our spirituality is going to mean something, then it must help us in our growing up.  It must not speed this unnecessarily, but if it does the opposite, if it slows down unnecessarily, or even permanently, then it is a fearsome thing indeed. 

How can we tell when our religion is keeping us from growing up?  

When it keeps us from demonstrating a radical, inclusive love for God's children, religion ceases to be helpful, and in fact, can become quite fearsome. 

If our religion teaches us that God only speaks through Scripture... 

If our religion keeps us from reading Scripture critically and openly... 

If our religion drives people further away from God rather than closer... 

The list is long, and we could all add our own items to it, I'm sure.  

But if we truly want to live into the abundant and full life that God desires for us to live, we need to also point to those moments when religion serves to move us forward.  

Like when our heart is broken open because of our faith, and we realize that God's grace is bigger and God's love is wider than any kind of prejudice, hatred, or bigotry that we may have been taught. 

Or when we desire to live like Jesus, love God and love everybody, and pursue God's purposes for the sake of shalom, God's eternal peace in the world.  

Our religious experiences can be the gateways to new ways of seeing, living, and being in the world.  They can move us forward toward the kind of growth that we need to be more fully alive.  

May it be so for you today, and every day from this day.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always.  Amen.  

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