Where do I begin?

While I was working in a correctional institution as a prison chaplain, one of the most common questions I was asked was, “How do I get back on track with God?”  That is a pretty wide-open question, and I would normally respond with a question of my own.  I would often ask, “What type of writing do you like to read?”

That may have seemed like an odd response from me, but it actually had a very specific purpose.  As the majority of people who were asking the original question were referring to the Christian faith, I would tell them to start with either the Gospel of Mark (if they liked fast-paced action stories) or with the Gospel of John (if they preferred an “insiders” perspective of history).  Either one was a great (re)entry point into spirituality.

One of the reasons that I gave different suggestions in response to the same question was that we all approach spirituality with different perspectives and from different backgrounds.  For example, my background in prison, university, and church has influenced how I process questions and experiences of spirituality.  And your background has influenced you.  Often, recognizing where we are at is the first step in knowing what we should do next.

What about you?  If you are interested in exploring spirituality (and I assume you are, or you wouldn’t be reading this book), do you know where to begin or what to do next?  Let me suggest that the first step is not to think about specific religions or about spirituality, or even to read a book.  The best first step is to think about yourself.  Here are two questions to consider, as you start your exploration.

What is your posture?  This is fairly important.  Are you or I exploring religion or spirituality because we want to disprove someone’s beliefs (the posture of attack), because we want a deeper understanding of teaching and practice (the posture of learning), or because we need change or transformation in our lives (the posture of submission)?  What is our attitude?  What are our motives?  The goal of this series is to avoid the first posture and focus on the second, although some readers may move into the third posture from time to time.

What are your real questions?  Related to the discovery of our posture is the identification of our real questions.  Deep inside, what is it that we want to know or understand?  For example, if we want to know, “What does a particular religion believe about the afterlife?”, perhaps our real question is, “How can I know what (if anything) will happen to me as I die?”  The first is about facts, the second is about life.  Identifying our real questions will help us get real answers, and we won’t have to settle for information alone.

Questions to ask ourselves and others …

  1. Do you need to get “back” to God, or is spirituality something that you are exploring for the very first time?
  2. When it comes to conversations about spirituality, what is your posture? What do other people think your posture is?
  3. In terms of your own spiritual journey, do you know the “real” questions that you are asking?
  4. In terms of the spiritual journeys of those around you, do you know the “real” questions that they are asking?

Mark

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