Religion serves a purpose. It is the outward expression of our inward realities.
Religion is a means to an end. It functions as an agent to open us to realities we have not considered. Religion serves as an introduction to a reality that is more important. This reality is what brings transcendence to a human being.
Religion is a vehicle for spirituality, but too often spirituality becomes a vehicle for religion. This is one of the greatest challenges in our contemporary spiritual development. Churches use religion to serve their pragmatic needs to survive as a community and sometimes lose sight of serving the Spirit. This is why people are turned off from religion. It does not feed them the way it should.
People view religion as a money making scheme. They become jaded and cynical in what it is trying to do rather than seeing the good it can bring an individual. The sexual scandals in churches and the handling of these evil practices have done nothing to improve the image of churches and the politics muddies the waters further.
At its best, religion and spiritual development opens our hearts in ways that not only help us develop as human beings, but serve as a healing agent. Every great theologian addresses the psychological problems that our culture creates for us day to day that wound us. They also identify the intrinsic power of addressing these problems through spiritual exercises that can make us see the world in a way that elevates our consciousness. Theologians look to scripture to help us see how we can heal ourselves and in turn heal one another.
The Buddha’s teachings address the deep-seated suffering of the heart. Jesus’ teachings do this as well. Any spiritual master worth his weight will delve deeper into psychological realities. His spiritual teachings are meant to open us up in ways that bring us to a deeper understanding of the healing agents that exist within us.
Jesus sent forth the 72 disciples and again at the feast of Pentecost, he taught them how to discipline the mind to live in concert with the highs and lows of life. They were the psychologists of the soul.
The early Christian disciples spread the “good news” and healed. They helped people see the power within through their words and revealing a new way to consider scripture. They were sent into the world in twos to demonstrate solidarity and the power of spirit. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there, too”. Matthew 18:20.
The likes of St. Benedict of Nursia with his teaching of Lectio Divina and St. Ignatius took it to another level through the Spiritual Exercises and the Examen.
We are born with certain animal instincts that help us in our survival. These instincts are part of the human condition. The emotional responses that come with fears and the programs that come with our survival need to be addressed. We learn through the process of socialization how to cope with challenges through our parents, brothers, sisters and those with whom we associate, but we are not immune to falling back into these conditioned responses unless we are fully aware of them.
We are also born with a profound sense of reason and wonder that can help us rise above our circumstances. Our intellect can help us rise above, but the early programing settles in the subconscious level. Signs, symbols, myths, rituals and doctrines can help us in life. Such meaningful expressions can help us establish personal disciplines that can lead to order in other aspects of our lives. It can help us form a moral universe. Empty expressions of worship leave us numb and apathetic.
The saints are those people who have used spiritual disciplines to rise above adversity in ways that empower others to see the latent power that is accessible to everyone. They have tapped the inner reserves to serve their needs.
Primal religions look to shaman to help the individual address psychological realities. Every society has its own shaman to help us understand the world in a deeper more meaningful way. Poets, artists can serve this role as well, but philosophers and writers can pinpoint the triggering mechanisms directly.
A great artist will examine world contexts and articulate them in a manner suitable to the needs of the society of his time.
It is easy to dismiss religion due to the controversies that are brought by human limitations. Spiritual development is critical to thriving in a world that can test the heart and spin the mind into quandaries. The pursuit of truth emboldens us to take on the world and empower the soul to greatness.