“We are not on earth to guard a museum,
but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.”
- Pope John XXIII
The Wild Reed’s series of reflections on spirituality continues with an excerpt from Michael Morwood’s 1998 book, Tomorrow’s Catholic: Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium.
We each have our images and thoughts about God and our relationship with God. Spirituality is simply the manner in which we allow these images and thoughts to direct the way we live. We can, for example, picture God as a cruel dictator. That belief would have an enormous impact on our relationship with God, our style of prayer and worship and self image.
We could, on the other hand, perceive God as incredibly loving and understand ourselves as richly blessed with the presence of God’s Spirit. Obviously, in the second example, our spirituality will be quite different from the first example. What we believe and image and the way this influences the way we live, relate, pray, and worship - this is our spirituality.
As Catholics, our spirituality has been shaped and packaged for us by centuries of experience, thought, and reflection. We inherited a Catholic worldview at an early age. We took this on board, unquestioningly in most cases, and tried to be faithful to it.
One of the problems being encountered today – and one we must face if our spirituality is to be real – is that much of our inherited spirituality was shaped by religious thought patterns and worldviews that are now questionable, if not irrelevant.
It is somewhat like trying to perform heart surgery in a modern hospital with only the knowledge of fifteenth-century medical science. It is not that anyone wants to scoff at the medical knowledge of earlier centuries. That would be unfair. Likewise with our religious worldview and our spirituality. The intent is not to belittle earlier thought patterns which sustained Christian living for centuries. The intent is rather to look at the basics of our religious beliefs in the light of today’s worldview which is vastly different from that which shaped Christian thought in its beginnings. What we find is good news: the Christian message blends beautifully with today’s worldview.
Christianity has always maintained that God is infinite, that God is everywhere, that God’s presence sustains everything that has existence. . . . God permeates all creation.
Let us pause and examine what this means for a spirituality.
It surely suggests that we must rid ourselves of notions that we have to buy or win God’s love or presence. God’s presence is an essential condition for existence. You cannot have “more” or “less” of it.
Every one of us is permeated with God’s presence. The pope does not have it any more than the truck driver or the nurse. The vital difference comes not from the reality but from the recognition and the naming of the reality, that is, naming and recognizing oneself as someone who gives flesh to, gives human form to, gives particular, unique, personal human expression to the reality we name God.
God comes to expression, comes to a particular life in ME. In me, God can speak, can move, can dance, can compose music or write poetry, can make love and create life, can laugh and can cry at the imperfection of it all.
The reality we name as “God,” mightier and more vast than 400 billion galaxies, permeates my existence as a human person. Certainly God is infinite and unknowable; but we look into our hearts and lives, and there is this same God bursting to life in us. Why do we keep looking elsewhere to find God? Why do we stay locked into a spirituality that looks for God in the heavens in preference to a spirituality that focuses on the God within and among us, urging and prompting us to claim our sacred identity - and to live it? Here is the arena of conversion and the heart of Jesus’ message to all of us who have ears to listen.
Our spirituality needs to articulate more clearly and more thoroughly this basic relationship between God and ourselves. It should emphasize both the reality of God’s presence with us, and our responsibility to allow that presence to emerge and be seen in the way we live. Our basic sin, if we are to talk about an “original sin,” is our blindness to this reality of who we are and the ways we block the emergence of the sacred within us. The story is not of a “fall” from a perfect state of consciousness and developed conscience; rather, it is the story of the slow emergence within human beings of the realization that the sacred is deep within each of us.
- Excerpted from Tomorrow’s Catholic: Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium by Michael Morwood (Twenty-Third Publications, 1998, pp. 97-98).
Others highlighted in The Wild Reed’s “In the Garden of Spirituality” series include:
James C. Howell
Images: Michael J. Bayly.