Thousands of years ago, humans had a sense of this divine presence all around. Then, a major shift occurred. Formal religion took this presence from the earth and placed in the heavens in the form of gods. Later development in religious thinking led the Hebrew people to imagining and believing there was only one God, an Almighty God who ruled from above. It is surely ironic that formal religion brought the “original sin” to the world. It removed the divine from the earth and placed it in the heavens. It was formal religion that separated humanity from a previously intimate profound sense of the divine here on earth; it led people into images and notions about exile from God; it told people they were basically sinful and that only adherence to a particular religion can bring salvation as long as they dutifully obeyed the teachings and practices of that religion.
Formal religion took its mind and eyes and heart off of here and now and focused instead on notions of separation and the need for mediators and priests with special powers to access the heavenly God; it established systems that made people dependent on middle managers who could access God for them and tell them, with unquestioned authority, what God’s thoughts were on almost every aspect of community life.
And all the while, the creative, divine, energizing reality, this incredible presence that brought the universe into being, was really here on earth being expressed in people’s lives. The presence did not and could not move from here. Only formal religion could make people believe otherwise.
There is a widespread shift in consciousness among people today, a shift that reflects and gives expression to the divine presence embedded in everything that exists. It is about breaking free of religious images and creeds and beliefs that lock them into thinking the next life is what really matters. It is a growing awareness that “salvation” for the world is not about access to a heavenly God; it is about being attentive to how the divine presence is expressed in the human endeavor and how, in the words of Jesus, we are to make the “kingdom of God” evident in the human community.
These are the inspired words of Michael Morwood from his book It's Time.
Dave's Shared Homily: (At the Upper Room we invite all to participate in a shared reflection on the readings.)
In the gospel reading from Luke Jesus provides an explicit explanation of the parable that he spoke to the crowd. Clearly, the theme here is that some of us hear the word and understand it but for various reasons cannot apply it in our day-to-day lives; perhaps it is due to fear of ridicule from others or fear that the cost that we might incur in living out the gospel message is simply too high. And then of course there are situations where we not only hear the word, understand it and apply it.
As I was reading this gospel reading I was thinking that I personally could be any of these people, depending on the day, depending on the moment, depending on the particular situation. And I think it’s important to remember that even in those times when we can’t implement the word or we don’t implement it as well as we would like to we should be kind to ourselves and understand that we are human and all of us at times find living the gospel of Jesus challenging.
We decided to pair the gospel reading with the first reading by Michael Morewood because it talks about a sad reality regarding the role of formal religion in modifying, and some would say undermining, the word. And although I was saddened by the first reading I was also inspired by it because it reminded me of why I am a member of this inclusive community. This community believes that we are not sinful or exiled from God; that Jesus came to earth not to save us from sin but out of love and to show us how to live. And that when Jesus talked about salvation he was really talking about saving us from ourselves-- our own egos, our own black and white thinking, our own unnecessary fears. He came to teach us a better way. I’m reminded by the first reading that being a member of this inclusive community means that we do not reach out to our brothers and sisters in the hopes of receiving some future reward when we die; we reach out because, like Jesus, we are vehicles of God’s love in the world. The prayers we recite today as part of our liturgy tell us to seek courage and creativity and to be proactive in helping the poor, the marginal, the forgotten. Let’s not be distracted by doctrine and dogma; let’s see with our eyes, hear with our ears and understand with our hearts. Let’s be the body of Christ to the world.
Mary's Shared Homily:
Listening to God’s message may be easier said than done. From the time we rise in the morning to when we retire, we’re pretty much on the go. If we really want to experience God’s presence, we need to take the time to slow down and make a commitment to clear our thoughts, listen, see and feel the inspiration coming our way. It’s always there, we just need to recognize and welcome it.
The reading about the seeds falling on various types of soil and taking root has always been an interesting metaphor for me. Do I have a rich soil that allows God’s word to take root and grow? Do the roots continue each season to grow deeper and deeper or must I provide routine nurturing in the form of prayer, meditation, books, scripture, and gatherings to keep the soil fresh and welcoming? If I don’t, do the fruits of my seeds stop growing, die or stagnate?
These are the questions I see raised in Matthew’s gospel. I would like to think that my efforts are rewarded by a rich spiritual life but I also know that if I don’t keep up the work, the rich soil may become arid and unyielding. If we are fortunate to have developed the rich soil which can put forth beautiful flowers and food, then it’s important to water and feed it which for me is exploring and experiencing different rituals in various faiths and listening to other’s points of view. In other words, to be open minded and attentive.
How do you nourish your soil, which ironically is only one letter off from soul and can you recommend any methods that have helped you grow in your spirituality?