The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

Throughout this entire journey of distancing myself doctrinally from the Christian religion, I’ve felt weird praying. I couldn’t tell you whether it was guilt, uncertainty, or just some conglomeration of the two. In many ways, I feel like in abandoning the Judeo-Christian concept of God, I had separated myself from God altogether. I felt like I wasn’t “allowed” to worship because in doing so I would be betraying my newfound scientific and logical convictions. God was starting to seem to be more and more of a human construct, or at least to be largely interpreted through a flawed human lens.

Upon further analysis, though, I realize that this “flawed human lens” is all that we have. It seems that I will never have an unbiased view of God and spirituality, because we humans each bring our own unique perspective to the subject.

So today, I prayed. I poured out my heart to God, I thanked Him for being with me. I don’t believe that in doing so I “backslid” or “reverted to religion”. I told Him that I still didn’t know what I was going to call Him but that I was sure that He was real.

Even if I were to choose to add a Christian slant to things, even Jesus was a bit of a revolutionary when it came to the subject of worship. It’s his words that I derive my topic title from.

“Neither shall they say, ‘Lo here!’ or ‘Lo there!’ for, behold, the kingdom of god is within you.” -Luke 17:21

Also, in classic story of the woman at the well, Jesus tells the woman that one day, “neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem will we worship the Father”. He also said,

“The time is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is looking for this kind of worship.

God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship Him in spirit and truth.” -John 4:23-24

Some people translate this “by the spirit” and instead of saying “God is a spirit” they say rather that He is in possession of one and only through the power of His spirit can we worship Him as he truly deserves/desires to be worshiped. Either way, these are very profound statements coming from one of a Jewish religious background. God was thought to reside primarily inside of the tabernacle- and later on, the temple- with his spirit falling on leaders at certain times and enabling them to do specific mighty works. The idea of the holy presence of God actually residing inside of a frail and human vessel was extraordinary, yet Jesus was saying that this would become the normal way He was to be approached.

The Hindus actually have a saying that has become popular even in the West today. They say, “namaste” in greeting while performing a specific bow. The rough translation is, “I bow to the divine in you.” The idea of acknowledging the divine in a person as a sign of respect fits in very well to the theology that I’m starting to shape.

I know I’ve mentioned yoruba here as well but I’ll talk about it again for those who’ve missed it. Basically the yoruba tradition teaches that each person has a part of themselves that comes from God, a kind of “higher self” I suppose you could say that they are to use their lifetime striving to attain to. You are supposed to unite your non-divine self with the divine self in order to achieve transcendence. (Those who die still in a state of total schism are doomed to a kind of hell).

In Christianity there is said to be an internal schism as well. Paul talks of putting away the “old man” who is carnal, selfish, and unholy, and putting on the “new man” who is created in the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:22-24). He also writes in the epistles to the Romans (and also some in Galatians) about how there is a war between these two opposite natures. He says that his mind wants to serve Christ, but his body wants to serve sin, and any attempt of the mind to exert its will over the body results in a struggle.

Now that being said, I must note here that I no longer really believe that we are born corrupted or that we need to be redeemed from sin. I only used that example to draw a parallel between Christianity and Yoruba by pointing out that each of them has a core belief that we are not our best selves and that we need to work towards being better. I believe that is a universal concept shared by almost all religions (its gets tricky when we go into Taoism with its “true virtue is not always virtuous”). Each of the major religions just seeks to achieve the same goals through different means.

It’s a little bit funny trying to explain my newfound beliefs to fundamental Christians. Here is a rough quote of a conversation I had with a minister who was leaving my place of business.

Preacher: “Are you a Christian?”

Me: “Kinda…sorta? I’m kind of between faiths at the moment.”

Preacher: “There’s only one faith.”

Me: *don’t remember what I said here because I was feeling awkward*

Preacher: “Do you believe in God?”

Me: “Yes.”

Preacher: “What do you believe about God?”

Me: “Well, I believe that He’s like, a life-giving force in the universe. I believe that God is in you, and God is in me.”

Preacher: “Are you a Jehovah’s witness?” (I get asked this a lot) *preacher pretends to knock on a door* “Do you knock on doors?”

Me: *awkward laughter* “No I don’t.”

Preacher: “Do you read the Bible? Are you familiar with scripture?”

Me: “I’m pretty familiar with it.” (This is an understatement).

Preacher: “Do you know what the Bible says about Jesus?”

Me: *wants to say “Yes, but I don’t believe the Bible was divinely inspired” but instead plays safe* “It says He’s the way, and the life.”

To make a long story slightly shorter, the pastor offered to pray for me and I felt helpless to deny his request. The place where I work was closing, and I felt more than a little self-conscious about things but out of respect I bowed my head and closed my eyes while the pastor and the people with him prayed for God to reveal Himself to me in a new way. He was also careful to note that “God you know the dead ends she’s faced”. (Ohhh….kay?)

I guess part of the reason why I let him pray, was because as usual I keep hoping for something to happen. I keep waiting for the lightning bolt to hit and me to be “overcome with the presence of God” and to suddenly “see the light” and that Christianity was right and I could stop this crazy day-and-night search for a new religion.

Of course, nothing happened, except that I felt flattered that this goofy pastor was concerned about me but at the same time a little bit offended at being ambushed. I was struggling to explain in my mind why I felt slightly violated while at the same time feeling touched. Maybe one of these responses is how I’m “supposed” to feel and the other one is how I really do feel. I guess I’ll never know until it happens again. The day may come when, if someone asks to pray for me I can say, “No” and feel totally comfortable and not like I’m committing some sin or bringing misfortune upon myself. The day will come when I’m so comfortable with my personal spirituality that I can say, “No thank you, but you are free to pray for me at home if you like” and just totally smile and own that.

I began to digress from my point (so let’s get back on track). The point is, I might not be Christian, but I can still believe in and worship something. There’s still meditation, prayer, and private contemplation that is available to me. I can attend worship services of other religions and learn from them. I can burn incense or light candles in worship. I can sing. I can read. I can do a lot of the things I used to do and more but now I can do them with clarity and in a way that makes sense to me.

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One thought on “The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You

  1. You may find that a more correct understanding is “the kingdom of God is AMONG you”, referring to the fact that He himself was standing in their midst but they had not recognised him for who he was. On being “not our best selves”, when Adam left God’s Spirit and decided to egotise his life, the cure was to return to being led by the Spirit. Christian teaching is that we cannot recover anything of worth from this “fallen”condition, it is to be considered dead with him and similar to the flood, which baptism symbolises. Christians are to be led by the Living God instead of by their own desires, which arose from self determination. (which corruption Jesus repaired in his own body). Our inherent failure simply reveals life as a learning exercise to discover our need of reconnection with the Spirit of the living God, through the Son of love. Anything less is not good enough and has no lasting existence. It is only the judgement of death against such things that enables the reverse reality of love to be revealed.

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