Usually when children begin on their faith journey, if they are raised by Christians, they are taught prayer as a conversation with an invisible person called “God” or “Jesus”; but a child experiences mystery all around them, and so many of us externally took up the religion of our parents, but kept a secret closet in our minds for the mystery we felt all around us. We didn’t necessarily feel it in church, but the mystery was always there around trees and animals. For many, that secret closet does not survive into adulthood, and so we teach to our children, something that is dead to us, but which we hope will live in them.
Most children experience more mystery in Harry Potter than in Bible stories, which is a failure of that corpse that often calls itself the “church”. Adults take dead stories from their parents and pass them on so we can all avoid a punishment called “hell”. That is a religion for cowards. Religion should be, and the church should be, awakening to the shared mystery of reality as it is lived in this moment.
People sometimes ask me why I stay working in the church if I have so many bad things to say about it. But I am not nearly as harsh as Jesus or the prophets against those who claim to be passing a torch, when everyone can see the flame has burned out. It is the same reason I stay in my nation even though it commits attrocities. It is the same reason I do not jump out a window when I consider my own failings.
If we want a better world, we have to start somewhere. It makes sense to start where we are. I cannot start from scratch because I carry the same arrogance and ignorance of my religion and my nation. I am not attacking either of them. As Rev. William Sloane Coffin used to say, “I am having a lover’s quarrel.” I love what the church should be, but we cannot get to truth if we begin with what we know is a lie. Instead, “faith” must mean trusting reality enough to be radically honest about what we know and what we do not know. I would feel a duty to do this whether I was born Jewish, Muslim or atheist.
I believe we must return to that secret closet of mystery, and realize Jesus was talking about that most intimate place. Jesus was not trying to get us to merely believe something about him, but to realize something about reality itself. He did not come to divide us into groups, but to teach us we are one. We are one, and every person, every animal, every twig is a holy prayer that the church must stop trying to control, and learn to sing harmony with. We can only save the church by letting the real Jesus out of the closet.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.