Editor’s note: In his doctoral dissertation, Pastor Pat Bailey of Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church is claiming the need for a re-visioning of the Christian church’s theology and its understanding of mission, the need for a more natural, integrative theology and for an earth-focused, contextual approach to mission. This blog is part of a long-running weekly series.

Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church

Pastor Pat Bailey

Process theologian David Ray Griffin identifies two basic kinds of reported religious experiences, “the experience of a numinous, personal being distinct from oneself, and the experience of union or identity with an impersonal, formless reality,” and in his usual metaphysical fashion, he relates those two forms to two ultimates, God and Creativity respectively. Alternatively, philosopher Ken Wilber would identify these two approaches as differing perspectives, one from the We quadrant and the other from the I quadrant of his Integral Operating System. Within this view the personal and impersonal are not two mutually exclusive kinds of religious experience, nor do they require two ultimate referents or a subordination of one experience to the other. Both have value in the spiritual quest.

I believe that the basic distinction that has been proposed in metaphysical renderings of God is actually indicative of common psychological and spiritual experience. The named and unnameable, the kataphatic and apophatic, the personal and impersonal renderings of God have their origin in attempts to describe various experiences of separation and integration, communion and union, constructed self and transcendent self. This view allows a dualism that is not metaphysical but perspectival. It also renders a dualism where both poles are oriented toward one another and that requires both sides to make up the whole.

I think that this view helps to counter the anti-ego rhetoric sometimes heard from spiritual teachers. The unique, constructed self need not be an expression of an isolated, individuated subject or a false self. Furthermore, the interdwelling of Nature and Spirit implies that self is experienced as both constructed and nonconstructed. By recognizing both the interdependent nature of the constructed self and the merged nature of the transcendent self, I can experience myself as both All and One. This All and One is what I see as central to the Christ figure, fully human and fully divine, standing with creation and one with the Father.

An interdwelling perspective of spirituality that I am proposing, then, is not a privatization of religion, not a turn to quietism nor even contemplation alone. If the experience of an interdwelling of Spirit and Nature is that in which one is seeking to participate, and by which one is seeking to define the church’s mission, then that which one is engaged in, or is called to engage, is all of life: private, public, planetary, and cosmic.

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