Thursday, September 1, 2011

Union with God: Why I Am Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church

If you were in your twenties in the 1960s, you probably were overly interested in the search for “the meaning of life.” You could fulfill that quest for meaning through many avenues - political action, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and, believe it or not, through religion.  Well, it wasn’t so cool if it was conventional religion but Eastern religions and peyote certainly were. 

As one of those children of the 60s I developed an unusual interest in one quite conventional form of religion – the Episcopal Church. I discovered, unexpectedly, it brought all my other unconventional paths together.  The beauty of the parish church and the quiet, profound reverence surrounding the Eucharist were suggesting that a door to the meaning of life might lie just inside the Episcopal Church, a short walk from my college campus.  There was a dawning awareness that the answer to meaning in life was God. 

Yet those more eastern paths to God were also being explored.  I wanted to be just like J.D. Salinger’s Glass family.  I imagined a closet door inscribed with quotes from all the great world’s religions and myself immersed in the Vedanta, Sutras and the teachings of the great mystics.  One day reading Franny and Zooey by Salinger I reached this point in Zooey’s attempt to reach through to Franny in her crisis.  “I swear to you you’re missing the whole point of the Jesus Prayer.  The Jesus Prayer has one aim, and one aim only.  To endow the person who says it with Christ-Consciousness.” 

I was intrigued, but I really didn’t know what Zooey meant.  Nor did I know that The Way of the Pilgrim, the book that brought on Franny’s crisis, and the teaching about the Jesus prayer were real, not simply a figment of Salinger’s imagination.  Not long after as it happened, a friend and fellow reader of Salinger excitedly placed in my hand an actual copy of The Way of the Pilgrim.  And lo and behold, what did I notice but this exotic book that seemed to have leaped out the pages of Franny and Zooey and into my hands was published by an arm of the Episcopal Church – Seabury Press.  And as I stepped into this new and strange world of the Russian pilgrim I read this.  “My heart kindled with desire for union with God by means of interior prayer.”  At that point I understood Zooey’s words about the meaning of the Jesus prayer.  It was a turning point in my spiritual life. The goal of life is union with God and there is a way towards that goal.

And the connection between Seabury Press, which had the vision and courage to publish this strange book, and the Episcopal Church, where I was beginning to discover a home, was not lost.  These Episcopalians must value the spiritual journey.  They obviously are not afraid of the mystical aspect of the Christian faith.  And they believe that the end and purpose of life is union with God. 

There is meaning to this life.  It is union with God.  The Episcopal Church has provided a wonderfully beautiful environment for me to grow within the community of Christ towards this goal.  The examples of how this is so are countless, but the Episcopal Church has said it best.  In the catechism we’re asked what the Church is sent by God to accomplish, what is the mission of the Church?  “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”  And that’s one very good reason I’m fond of the Episcopal Church.

This month’s guest post is from The Rev. Bob Hart, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Michigan where he currently serves as interim minister at St. James Episcopal Church in Birmingham, MI.