by Elizabeth T. Andrews
American Reporter Correspondent
January 2, 2007
SPIRITUAL EQUALITY IS A DIVINE RIGHT
CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- We Americans talk a lot about rights. Constitutional rights. Civil rights. The rights of women. The rights of gays. The right to keep and bear arms, and even the rights of animals. We demand the right to live, work and play as we please, and we have the right not only to pursue happiness, but the right to define "happiness" for ourselves. And all these rights have in common the unspoken premise that we must not interfere in the rights of others.
Strange, isn't it, how nobody talks about spiritual rights?
We have a constitutional "right to worship," but that is hardly the same thing as an individual's right not only to define "God" for themselves but to serve - or not serve - God according to their own spiritual orientation.
For example, I know an intelligent woman who is convinced she has a sincere, divine calling to preach. Not here, you won't, said her church pastor, elders and the church board. Spiritual equality? Hardly. Violation of spiritual rights? Absolutely.
"Start your own church" I told her. "Nobody has the right to tell you that you can't serve your God in your own way."
I am convinced much of the problems in the world could be resolved if we would stop barring women from the steps leading up to the pulpits.
Tragically, however, almost all religions set the male mind above the female mind, the male spirit above the female spirit, and male spiritual rights so far above the spiritual rights of the female that she is left with the centuries-old, unexamined idea that God is a man and she is just a piece of universal detritus floating in the spiritual cosmos of a male-defined God.
Where did we get them, these multi-colored definitions of Cosmic Intelligence, of Allah, of Yahweh, of God-the-Father?
From what source have we fashioned our individual spiritual destinies?
It requires a great deal of work and a willingness to accept responsibility for our own spiritual path. Most of us are simply line-dancing behind Mama's and Daddy's version of religion, or what that charming Brother Brown had to say last Sunday at church, or the naive, child-like assumption that God has given somebody else the spiritual answers for us.
All of the above are practiced by good people who have never questioned the seriousness of personal spiritual responsibility or yearned for the unwritten universal rights that flow between Universal Intelligence and the individual.
We can, we should, we must, assume full personal responsibility for our soul's daily dance with the Divine, And if it is not a daily dance, we haven't read the tea leaves right.
What, then, shall we use as a guide? What book shall we choose as reference to help us understand this awesome thing called God?
I've got some good news, and some not-so-good-news.
The good news is you can go into a forest, sit under a tree, be very still, clear your mind of daily cobwebs, invite God to join you and all that you ever need to know about God will come to you.
The not-so-good-news is that almost every priest, preacher, pope, rabbi, guru, or self-proclaimed holy man on Earth will tell you it can't be done that way.
They will, of course, point to their many different reference books for proof of what they say.
The problem is the reference books are often similar (Jews, Christians, and Muslims all claim divine lineage via Abraham) but the outcome of content and interpretation is as varied as Joseph's coat of many colors. There are no two religious teachers on the Earth's surface who agree totally and completely about sacred texts, interpretation and application of said texts, or whether an understanding of all or part of the texts is a pre-requisite for experiencing (not to be confused with intellectualizing) God-love, God-comfort, God-wonder.
Ironically, three great spiritual texts have been written in the last 150 years, and - are you sitting down? - they were written by women: Mary Baker Eddy's "Science and Health," Myrtle Fillmore's "Unity" and that reluctant scribe of "A Course in Miracles," Helen Schulman. Via the female authorship of those books, I think a universal God is trying to tell us something about balancing yin and yang.
None of these teachings advocate violence in God's name, nor do they exalt the female over the male. What they leave any intelligent person with is the knowledge that "inspiration" is not the divine, exclusive right of males; that God truly is not a "respecter of persons;" and that the individual - female or male is a child of God's with full privileges, rights and responsibilities, divinely granted at birth.
To assume for one fraction of a second that any man is spiritually superior to another man, woman, or child is an exercise in haughty pseudo-spirituality guaranteed not to get us into a Heaven where spiritual equality is breathed in with the air of the morning's holy oatmeal.
Spiritual equality is a divine given - not to be tampered with by fools, fellows, or anyone with an ego problem who needs to believe they have a monopoly on God.
Each of us must go alone to the mountaintop and stand there, trembling and naked, in the presence of That-From-Which-We-Came and declare: "Here I am, God. I'm having a terrible time trying to make sense of the ugliness in the world and also of my own inability to connect more often with You. Help me to know what it is You would have me do. Give it to me first-hand, God. I don't want Brother Brown's version of what you'd have me do. I'm just as smart as he is. I will 'be still and know' if you'll keep your part of the bargain and grant me that inner peace that is my spiritual right.
"And could You hurry just a little? The world is in terrible shape right now and in need of all new insights it can get. I'll write a new song for You. Pray a new prayer for you. Build a new church for you. Here I am, God. Use me."
What we need is a Declaration of Spiritual Independence, with a preamble that reads: "We hold this truth to be self-evident: Every individual on Earth has not only the right but the responsibility to define and serve God - or not - on her or his own terms."
And finally, at the bottom of this Declaration, I would add: There is no bus to heaven filled just with Baptists, or Catholics, or Jews, or Muslims. There is a narrow trail, worn smooth by the feet of determined individuals, that winds around the many mountains of human experience. It heads always upward toward the stars.
There are a lot of rocks and rattlesnakes on the trail, but if you look up, there is a light at the top of the mountain and if, as you climb, you can shut out the noise of the world below, you'll hear a soft voice calling down to you "Courage, wanderer. You're almost home."
AR Correspondent Elizabeth T. Andrews is a former columnist for the Orlando Sentinel now living in Cartersville, Ga., where she writes poetry. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 816, Cartersville, GA 30120.