Religion as an Adventure of the Spirit by Bruce Epperly

"The worship of God is not a rule of safety—it is an adventure of the spirit,” so wrote British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. The same applies to the spiritual journey—it is an adventure of the spirit, beckoning us beyond our known worlds to the Deep Mystery we call God. While we all need moments of rest, moments in which we retire from the busyness of life, deep contemplation is adventurous in spirit. Rest stops inspire us to venture toward new horizons of the spirit. God is alive, and so are we. To be alive means to change, grow, and evolve.

 Bruce Epperly's Becoming Fire! 

Bruce Epperly's Becoming Fire! 

As I look back at my life, it has truly been an adventure of the spirit. Some of these adventures were accidental, others synchronous, and still others intentional. I am grateful for my Baptist roots, the “old time religion” of my Baptist parents where I learned the great hymns of faith, acquired an evangelical spirit, and discovered the wisdom of scripture. Yet, even as a pre-teen, I found that the old time religion was not enough to satisfy my spirit. I yearned for something more. I had no name for this “more” but it lured me forward. I loved my small town faith, but my spirit needed to wander. I needed spiritual breathing space. I needed to venture forth, as I did in the late sixties and early seventies, on a “magical mystery tour,” as the Beatles described it, through the summer of love, altered states, and the wisdom of the East.

I nearly left my childhood faith behind, but something tethered me to the pathway of Jesus, even though the path had widened to include Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, and First American spiritual practices. I learned that following Jesus opened me to the world and that Christ is, as my theological mentor John Cobb asserts, the way that excludes no authentic spiritual way.

My own journey was the inspiration for writing Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians. I realized along the way that I was not alone. I realized that many other followers of Jesus yearned to embrace the spiritual practices of Christianity in ways that opened them to the wisdom of other faiths. In my own journey of the spirit, I found Jesus again not by going backward to small town evangelical faith, but by traveling through Transcendental Meditation, the Tao Te Ching, and the Christian social gospel movement. I rediscovered the emotional fervor of my evangelical youth in the context of a passionate desire to “become fire,” that is, to experience the lively mysticism that gives life to every vital religious tradition. I didn’t have to leave Christianity to embrace a global spirituality, and that has inspired my own ministry with seekers and self-described spiritual but not religious persons.

As a Christian pastor and teacher, I believe the way forward embraces global wisdom in partnership with a passionate commitment to Christ. With early Christian teachers, I affirm that wherever truth is present, God is its source. These teachers, often identified as Logos theologians, saw Christ as the wisdom that inspired the Hebraic prophets, Plato, and Socrates. Perhaps, if they had known about Hinduism and Buddhism, they would have seen Christ’s truth in these faiths as well. God’s wisdom is everywhere and we are most faithful to Christ when we open to God’s presence in its variety and vitality.

Today, I am still growing in faith. In fact, the adventures of the spirit inspire me to embrace the wide spectrum of Christian mysticism—Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Seeker—as part of a global quest to bring healing to this good earth. The adventures of the spirit, embodied in Jesus of Nazareth, call us forward in communion with our Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Indigenous companions, to become God’s partners in Shalom.