Most religious searches begin with one massive misperception. People tend to start by making a very unfortunate, yet understandable, division between the sacred and the profane worlds. Early stage religion focuses on identifying sacred places, sacred time, and seemingly sacred actions that then leaves the overwhelming majority of life unsacred. People are told to look for God in certain special places and in particular events–usually, it seems, ones controlled by the clergy. Perhaps this is related to the clergy’s need for job security, which is only natural. Early stage religion has limited the search for God to a very small field and thus it is largely ineffective–unless people keep seeing and knowing at larger levels.
In Franciscan (and true Christian) mysticism, there is finally no distinction between sacred and profane. The whole universe and all events are sacred (doorways to the divine) for those who know how to see. In other words, everything that happens is potentially sacred if you allow it to be. Our job as humans is to make admiration of reality and adoration of God fully conscious and intentional. Then everything is a prayer and an act of adoration. As the French friar Eloi Leclerc beautifully paraphrased Francis, “If we but knew how to adore, we could travel through the world with the tranquility of the great rivers. But only if we know how to adore.”
For those who have learned how to see fully, everything–absolutely everything–is “spiritual.” This eventually and ironically leads to what the Lutheran mystic Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) called “religionless Christianity.” Bonhoeffer saw that many people were moving beyond the scaffolding of religion to the underlying and deeper Christian experience itself. Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything and everywhere becomes an occasion for good and an encounter with God.
God’s plan is so perfect that even sin, tragedy, and painful deaths are used to bring us to divine union, just as the cross was meant to reveal. God wisely makes the problem itself part of the solution. It is all a matter of learning how to see rightly, fully, and therefore truthfully. Recently, I watched a family-made video of a dear teenage daughter’s last moments dying from cancer, as she lovingly said good-bye. The family was ecstatic with tears and joy, through profound faith and hope in eternal life and infinite love. This experience, standing on the threshold of death with their loved one, likely did more long-lasting good for that family than years of formal religious education. I know that to be true from many personal experiences. The result is “religionless Christianity,” which ironically might be the most religious of all.