Remember Peretti? His ‘light versus darkness’ popular Christian fiction demonizing the spiritual ‘other’, were part and parcel in my younger days of the general climate of fear and prejudice towards any faith or spirituality outside of evangelical Christianity.
In reality, I guess those books were probably the inevitable outcome of a generation already steeped in the superstitions of a conservative charismatic Christian mindset. Looking back over the years, I can recall seriously weighing strong warnings from the front of the church never to remove my shoes before entering a Sikh/Hindu temple – the very act would signal submission to the demonic powers of that temple; that spirits were hanging around waiting to jump out at you at psychic fairs and Mind, Body Spirit festivals… and so much more, it’s embarrassing. The ribbons of looped tape reels wafting around the grass verges here and there were tangible evidence of the various witchy curses just waiting to attach themselves to unwary Christians. We had to tread very, very carefully – the world was a spiritual minefield out to snare us…
I went along with much of it – or at least, kept many of those things under review on my growing Shelf of Spiritual Questions. But even I was taken aback many years later by the powerful reach of this mindset. I was walking for the first time on to a particular TV set with the Executive Editor of one of the Christian media Channels I worked for. It was a set for a series I would present, and the original, rather sterile professional design had been vetoed. Relieved, I had quickly sketched out an alternative design – an altogether moodier look incorporating a background of heavy drapes woven through with Latin calligraphy. Happily, this one had met with approval.
So there we were, entering the studio filled with various TV crew busily adjusting their cameras and lights, to view the finished article – more beautiful even than I had envisaged, a gorgeous set bathed in the gentle glow of flickering candles. I beamed – but the Boss was jumpy. ‘Liz – are you sure this is ok? It all looks very dark… spiritually dark.’ Eyeing the drapes, his agitation increased: ‘What do those words mean…?
It was too much for me and my personal ‘dark’ side quickly shot back. ‘Oh those – nothing to worry about. Just a verse from the Karma Sutra. In Latin.’
‘What…!’ Eyes wide he spun round – before slumping and grinning sheepishly as the entire crew convulsed with laughter. ‘Liz Ray – you are one wicked woman!’
At least he had the grace to laugh. My sense is that years of dodgy teaching have left many so bound up with fear of potentially ‘dark’ people and situations that they have walked narrower and narrower paths, opting out of God-given opportunities and compromising their own personal identities for fear of spiritual contamination. And, ironically, the blanket-vetoeing and suspicion of anything that doesn’t conform spiritually means that true spiritual discernment is never cultivated.
How strange that with such reverence for C S Lewis in our circles we missed his own insightful thoughts on different faiths and spiritualities: ‘The gap between those who worship different gods is not so wide as the gap between those who worship & those who don’t.’
I decided eventually to test the validity of these words. On the look-out for ways in which to connect with spiritual searchers some years back, I trained in a Bible-based model of dream interpretation to use in a booth at Mind Body Spirit-type fairs.
The one thing those experiences impressed on me was the inclusive, affirming nature of the message of people’s dreams. I once found myself interpreting a dream which clearly signaled that the dreamer was a healer – were they? Their face lit up, buoyed by the recognition – yes, a Reiki Master. Didn’t God know that that Reiki didn’t actually count, I mused? Nope, evidently not. Taking a deep breath I continued to give the interpretation straight… it clearly showed the dreamer’s healing gift increasing as they followed the deeper spiritual path they had connected with recently. Moved, the dreamer explained that they had been brought up in a Christian home and had lately found themselves being drawn back to the church that they had earlier rejected… The Missio Dei, I discovered, is more just than a religious phrase… God really is at work in his own world, and the best response is to watch what he is doing – and the awesome respect with which he operates – and get alongside it.
Over the years I’ve followed with interest the spiritual journey of a major New Spirituality leader in the UK, fascinated by what has always come over to me as a mix of deep integrity and authentic spiritual hunger. Where would this take him, I had wondered? Originally, he would – by his own admission – promote any spiritual guru who produced some sort of authenticating supernatural manifestation. Until he began to notice that supernatural effects didn’t necessarily equate with values, ethics, or ‘goodness.’ In fact, even information gleaned directly from an authentically spiritual source was no guarantee of the truth of that information. Spirits themselves, he discovered, could lie. He wrote eventually that the deepest truth he had gleaned from his spiritual experiences over the years was encapsulated in the Bible verse, ‘Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God.’
Browsing the web recently, I saw that he had been an attendee at a leading New Spirituality centre – where a gifted Christian acquaintance of mine was giving a seminar on Christ-centred spirituality. The ‘guru’ had evidently taken to this person, and afterwards wrote a thoughtful reflection on both the appealing stance he had taken and the positive spiritual content of his message.
Interesting to see the route this particular journey is beginning to go. And sobering, too, to realize that had my friend been fazed by fears of connecting with those running a New Spirituality retreat, the message that is now helping to shape the journey of this particular spiritual guru would never have been heard…