We must understand that these times of personal disintegration and chaos come to all spiritual seekers, even the saints. In fact, these low periods seem to be a natural and necessary part of the spiritual journey. During these times, we cannot feel the comfort of our faith, and we seem to wonder whether there is any God or even any meaning to life itself. It is from these times of radical doubting that the deepest faith is born. How do we handle the times? We accept them. We descend into the dark and live there as long as we need to--while still carrying on our functioning in the world, though we may feel that we have become an empty shell. We must allow the emptiness in order for the new growth to take place. We wait for a sign, a direction, some light. And it comes.
One time in seminary I found myself in a spiritual fog, and my prayers seemed to go no higher than the ceiling. I had heard of a wise Jesuit priest who sometimes counseled students, and so I went to see him and poured out my heart. He listened quietly. And then he said, "Prayer is not about changing God. Prayer is being with God." I believe that prayer can take many different forms, but it is always the sincere outpouring of the heart. Prayer is valuable because when you pray, any false note will become apparent, and so you will find your heart's own truth, a guide which will serve you well. Prayer will help you focus on what is significant, will bring compassion as you pray for others. Prayer will ground you as you go through your days, being pushed and pulled by so many competing forces. The scripture says, "Pray without ceasing." In other words, we are admonished to go through our days with the understanding that we are essentially creatures of Spirit.
I'm preparing to fly to NY tomorrow for the opening of "Raw Faith" at the Quad Cinema in Greenwich Village on Friday! Peter Wiedensmith, the director, and I will be there throughout the weekend, doing Q&A following the screenings. I'm so looking forward to this trip! How warm will the days be? Should I bring a raincoat? How much time will I have between screenings to catch a bite to eat or to rest? The usual questions. But this trip is special because we're bringing "Raw Faith" to the "most discerning city," when it comes to the arts. I'm hoping our film will touch New Yorkers the way it has touched people in Portland, in Nashville, in Sun Valley, and in Martha's Vineyard, where it has been previously screened. It's a very specific story with a very universal message: Love can be difficult, but we have to keep on trying, even if it takes a lifetime. I hope to see you at the Quad, if you live in New York!
by Marilyn Sewell, The Huffington Post, June 22, 2011.
When did you give up God? Or did you?
I started doubting at an early age. My problem is that I never seemed able to access this God of love and mercy that the minister talked about. In the pain of my childhood and adolescence, my prayers seemed to go no higher than the ceiling. When your momma leaves and your daddy drinks and your guts are spilling out in anguish, what good is a God who says, "Look, I just work here"? I mean, what good is a God if you can't see Him, hear Him -- if you can't converse, for heaven's sake? Maybe there isn't a God at all, I concluded.
I've been a minister myself for over 25 years now, but that doesn't mean I've given up wondering about God. In fact, I confess that when I use the word God, I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. And yet, paradoxically, I've staked everything there -- with this Mystery that I cannot comprehend with my finite mind.
Read the full article here.
This is the thorniest theological question of all time. The closest answer I have found is in the Book of Job, when God answers Job's agonized questions with a series of questions of His own, beginning "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" In other words, you are not God, you cannot understand these mysteries, and since your cannot, you must simply live by faith. Evil is horribly operative in our finite world, but I believe there is an infinite realm where it is not operative. I speak of a spiritual dimension in which all is reconciled, a realm of perfection, or one might say, the mind of God. Individuals sometimes have mystical moments in which we feel "all is as it should be" or "everything is perfect, just as it is." I think in those moments we have dipped into that other world. I think it is our true home.
No one can prove or disprove the presence of God. One chooses to believe or not--to take Kierkegaard's "leap of faith" or not. I choose to believe. I believe I am accountable to something greater than myself, though I cannot define or describe or label what that is. Nevertheless, I have staked my life on it.
Marilyn Sewell delivers "When the Holy Breaks Through" at First Unitarian Church Portland on May 4, 2008.
Answer: God is only the most common name for that which we cannot name. Many other names are used, including Beloved, Holy One, the Sacred, the Great Mystery. We should understand that all naming is merely metaphor, because we are dealing in mystery. We cannot know or understand the Infinite with a mind that is finite, and so we make comparisons with what we do know. I like Tillich's phrase "the ground of our being." Buddhists, who are non-theistic, speak of reality itself.
Marilyn Sewell delivers "Called to Consciousness" to First Unitarian Portland, on May 18, 2008.
A person can engage in regular spiritual practice, or meet with a spiritual advisor. But the secret is that you must desire with all your heart to give yourself away to something greater than yourself, to be in service to the good and to let go of your conniving self-seeking ego. Stop the inner chatter and the outer noise, and invite silence. Contemporary society distracts us from our truest desires, which are spiritual.
I believe that everyone has a spiritual nature, or dimension, whether or not a given person believes in God or any kind of Higher Power. For example, most Buddhists do not believe in God, but their practice is deeply spiritual. Spirituality does not rest in belief of any kind, but rather depends on an open heart and at desire to be at one with what IS-call it reality or God or love itself.
The fruits of the spirit are classical through the ages, and similar, no matter what the faith tradition: humility, compassion, gratitude, kindness, presence, and generosity of spirit.
Spirituality is not essentially pragmatic, leading to a goal. It is a relationship with the Other, the Mystery. It is about listening and yielding, about opening and softening, about letting go of ego. The spiritual path can be difficult, for it is profoundly countercultural. It is not about finding bliss or even comfort, although with consistent spiritual practice, like prayer or meditation, a person is likely to find balance, a sense of groundedness, growing compassion, and peace.
In January 2010, Marilyn Sewell interviewed Christopher Hitchens on the subject of his 2007 book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
The interview was published in the Portland Monthly Magazine, and is available online. You can listen to the entire audio interview and read the transcript here.
The AlbumArtExchange Blog has posted the cover art of Sheryl Crow's "Love Will Remain", the original song composed for the soundtrack of Raw Faith. Deeply moved by Marilyn's sermons, Sheryl Crow composed this original theme exclusively for the film.
Listen to the song in the video below:
Marilyn Sewell is interviewed by Meredith Weiss in this segment from "On the Red Carpet" at the 2010 Nashville Film Festival, with George Crandall and director Peter Weidensmith.