By Reverend Andy Torkelson
What do brick-and-mortar spiritual communities have to offer in the early 21st century? If they act the way they did in most of the 20th century, not much. Many of us lived through, experienced, or witnessed their overly bloated sense of entitlement that oozed to the surface through doctrines of judgment and condemnation, abusive practices and teachings, and the abandonment of anything spiritually mystical they refused to understand.
By now, a few things have become obvious to nearly all of humanity: A savior is not coming to redeem our planet, our families, or our lives—we must do that saving for ourselves; spiritual secrets are all out of the bag—old dusty chambers filled with forbidden scrolls are all on the Internet; and the time of “them and us” is over—global economics and interaction are quickly bringing to fruition the spiritually rich concept of oneness.
The word “church”—with all that it once implied: a cloaked pastor, on high, laying down the law to robotic followers—is as dusty and dead as those forbidden chambers.
But do we live in a time when the value of coming together, spiritually, is irrelevant? The fact is that as humans—and primates, we’re “best” when we do come together—face-to-face, to work together, love together, and yes, engage in spiritual practice together.
Why? Because, as many Eastern spiritual teachers have observed, we who live in the West are fairly unhappy—destructive issues around compulsive behavior, family systems that are unhealthy, high rates of suicide, even higher rates of incredible loneliness, alcoholism, drug addiction, ramped consumerism, unsustainable economic systems, a collapsing health-care system, and the overprescribing of mood-altering pharmaceuticals.
In a day and age in which information is literally a click away, and we’re very much awash in data, do we have “wisdom”? “Wisdom”—spiritual wisdom, or “meaning,” as many of the great mystical teachers and masters such as Lao Tzu, Buddha, Jesus, Seattle, Swedenborg, Emerson, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King would tell us—is something that community, spiritual community, can very much assist us in cultivating.
Coming together with others, not to be told what to believe, but rather to find our own spiritual truths—the personal religion of us, if you will, through the distillation of profound conversations, questions, inquiry, meaningful spiritual and mystical practices—can take us beyond our myopic ideas, and season raw spiritual teachings with different voices, experiences, and realizations.
Our planet is calling out to be reclaimed, our children are calling out to be reclaimed, our institutions are calling out to be reclaimed, our self-worth is calling out to be reclaimed, our physical and emotional health is calling out to be reclaimed—in compassionate, humanly empowered ways that bring forward individual and collective dignity.
About 70 years ago the Center for Spiritual Living, in Paradise, was in its infancy. And 65 years ago it began life as the Paradise Church of Religious Science. Metaphysics, which is what its philosophy has always been, is a teaching that, simply put, says: “Our world is of our making—right or wrong, good or bad, up or down. And we can always create a better place; we can always create healing. We can always create change.”
When asked what we are today: a “center”? I respond that we’re a metaphysical teacher center, a place that advocates, teaches, studies, discusses, practices the spiritual art of creation: the creation of sustainability, personal responsibility, evolutionary and transformative thinking, healthy living, and personal spiritual expression.
Our movement looks long and hard at the old question of giving fish away or teaching one how to fish. And our conclusion is that learning how to fish is amazingly powerful.
What’s going to change our world’s challenges? It will be when we all learn how to act, vote, engage, work, play, create, love, speak, and live in sustainably, personally empowered ways.
Our “church” of 65 years ago, founded by a group of metaphysicians, would not be relevant today. But the principles they explored still are. They just have to show up in a different modality. And knowing that, we, like any other serious spiritual teaching, engage, every day, in what it takes to be part of a relevant spiritual landscape.
The challenge of doing brick-and-mortar community spiritual practice today is as ever-changing as the issues we face, which are coming fast and furious. But spiritual truth can handle them, as long as we’re willing to rely on each other to expand their meanings through each other.
If we can allow ourselves to see the pure potentials hidden within the challenges of this young century, spiritual exploration is an exciting undertaking.