This attitude to religion is as relevant to the age in which we live as it was in Tolstoy’s time. Today the decline in religion is shown, at least in Europe, by falling numbers attending Church and the apparent indifference of many people to religion. For Tolstoy this decline is part of a process and he claims that all religions have the characteristics of birth, development, ageing, death and rebirth. It so happens that we live at a time of the ageing and death of much traditional Christianity. Many theologians and spiritual writers talk of the in between times as we seek a new language that speaks to the modern age, a new paradigm to explain the fundamental truths of the christian faith. This may also be true of other faiths though we are likely to be at different stages in our development. The Baha’i faith which originated in Iran in 1844 for example is fairly new and so is still at the early stages of birth and development, unlike the older and more established faiths. And it always seemed to me that Tich Nhat Hanh was a bit of a genius in his ability to express Buddhist teaching in a way that touched people’s humanity, rather than using traditional Buddhist philosophical terms. He understood that religious teaching was like a finger pointing at the moon but it would only take people to the moon, to the heart of its meaning if the finger, the expression of it was meaningful and related to people’s human concerns and experiences.
For me the important thing about religion is that it should take us further on our human journey and help us live a meaningful and purposeful life. But it has to do this in a contemporary language that takes account of what we know about the cosmos and the universe we live in. The Greek philosophical language of the past doesn’t work any more nor the focus on original sin and the need for a redemption which comes through participation in a particular faith; nor does the suggestion that we still live in a three – tiered universe with heaven above and hell below. We know we live in an evolving universe and are participants in this adventure of life. Rather than think of myself as created by God I see myself and others as called forth from the beginning of time, called forth through all the generations of our ancestors to be given form and expression at this point in history. I see each human being including myself as a unique, incomparable expression of life, called not to find meaning outside of ourselves but rather called to give meaning to the whole process of life in which we are participating. We are privileged to be the ones to give meaning to the universe, to awaken it to its future possibilities and its future growth and development. And we do this by our contribution to the well-being of our race and our planet in whatever way we can, as long as we are for life and not against it.
I have learned this from writers such as Brian Swimme, Matthew Fox, Jeremy Lent, Cari Taylor, Joanna Macey, all of whom have helped me understand life and religion in an evolutionary way. I have developed a practice which I hope helps me integrate it into my life. Each morning I name myself as a child of the universe, the daughter of ….., the granddaughter of….., the sister of ……. the aunt of ……. the great aunt of ……… and I pray for them, using the Buddhist prayer ‘ may you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering’. I also make an intention that my day be for the good of all sentient beings, the well-being of the nations and the healing of the planet and I do this in union with all men and women past present and to come who have longed for, do long for and will long for the kingdom of God or if you are a Buddhist the Kingdom of Shambhala. But as a Christian I also make this intention in, with and through Jesus.
Tich Nhat Hanh’s saying ‘ I have arrived, I am home in the here and in the now’ is very appropriate for this approach and a good focus for meditation. I have arrived through all the stages of life and history to arrive, to be at home in the here and the now and I cannot be at home in the here and the now without being aware of the conflicts, the suffering, the struggles of the earth and its people and I hold that pain in my heart as I do my bit for the future well-being of all. And where is God in all of this, someone might ask? Right in the middle of it for are we not told that God is that Reality in which we live and move and have our very being.