| Anne Williamson |

Recently, for an article coming out in October on WAYfinding, I was asked this question, "What's your ultimate goal?" My response: 

For me, one of the most interesting and important questions in life is: To what do you live faithfully?  Because, we all live faithfully to something. As theologian Paul Tillich would say, “We all have an Ultimate Concern.” You would think this would be a question we’d be encouraged to explore in school, at work, at home – since it impacts everything we do – but it’s generally not. Often, our Ultimate Concern develops and resides in our subconscious alone.  For me, this is no good. Our Ultimate Concern, that to which we live faithfully, needs to be drawn out and evaluated: Is it what you thought? Is it worthy of your whole life?

On a deep level, this is the point of WAYfinding: to help people discover an Ultimate Concern worthy of their whole life. And then, to help them learn to live faithfully to that Concern everyday, to learn to listen to it. This, to me, is faith, and it requires a kind of bravery and permission beyond the mandatory checking of certain belief boxes.

This, then, is why, in WAYfinding, our lens, our shared commitment, is not a statement of beliefs but a process. ...

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In the faith world, this is a week for powerful stories. Christians will tell and hear of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It will remind them hate never has the final word, and peace, wholeness, is possible. Jews will begin the Passover celebration. They'll recount the story of their ancestors' deliverance from slavery in Egypt, as well as ongoing struggles against tyranny - both external and internal. They'll hear the story and remember freedom need not be a mere dream.     

These are big stories, meaningful. Stories that have been at the heart of Western cultures for centuries. They inspire us. Confuse us. Won't leave us alone - often, even when we're intentionally trying to leave them behind. They're a part of our histories, families, secular and sacred rituals, literature and movies. They are stories in which people all over the world have faith.  

Yet, they are stories about which our beliefs differ. Outside the traditions, and within them, we hear these stories and interpret them differently, allow them different places of meaning in our lives. What are we to make of this? Are we to assume some of us have it "right" and others "wrong"? Namely, me, I have it right, and you, you have it wrong. Or, can we imagine a different way? Can we allow each other different versions of the s/Story, different meanings, as long as those meanings soak in love? As long as they move us to live deeper and love better than we did yesterday. Can we begin to define faithfulness this way? 

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In the Kurt Vonnegut version of the biblical Genesis story, man politely asks God, "What is the purpose of all of this?" God's response is perhaps less than satisfactory; essentially, God replies, "You decide." God's response is not the part of the story I find most interesting, though. It's man's question, or rather according to this story, man's first assumption: that there is one purpose and it applies to everything.

Now, I like this idea. I like believing, underneath all the micro purposes, there exists one - one purpose that if comprehensively integrated would bring not universal peace but much, much more of it. I don't know this to be true, of course. And, I don't know what it is. I simply - or most days, incredibly not simply - have faith in it. 

What I do know to be true, though, is how necessary the presence, stories, ideas, questions of others has been on the journey to finding the one. Just when I think I've got it figured out, a new story shatters my confidence. Right when I feel solid in humanity's purpose, nature reminds me to think bigger, less anthropocentric. I know I've got a clear picture now until an unexpected question turns and blurs my lens just enough.

Is this frustrating? Sure. But, mostly, its grace. It's not up to me to determine the purpose of all of this. It's up to us. We need each other to find our purpose. Without a multitude of voices - strange and familiar - we become echoes who don't realize it. We settle into our perspective, and often, sometimes violently, force it on others.

This is one of the reasons we do what we do every week in WAYfinding. We create spaces where people with diverse ideas, beliefs, stories, gather to wonder aloud and honestly about "g/God" and how to live deeper and love better. Do we do this perfectly? No. Are we as diverse as we'd like to be? Absolutely not. But, it's our intention, our heart. Because we know we need each other. If there is a purpose to all of this; if "g/God," some sort of connective pulse to life exists, and we can know something about i/It; if we're going to live deeper and love better; we're not going to do so in silos, only hearing from voices like our own. We're going to do so together.   

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I had been in seminary a year when I found myself in an hotel room, alone, and feeling incredibly sad. It was the start of vacation, no papers were due, nothing to distract. So, I had to listen, listen to a truth I'd been pushing down for months: my beliefs about God did not make sense to me anymore. There, I'd said it. And the truth kept rolling: maybe they had always not made sense to me. Maybe this is why I went to seminary.

It felt like a kind of death. The God I knew was no more. And, I was sad. Sad and worried: what would become of my faith? A grief, and its process, that I realized then had already begun months earlier, swept over me. I let myself cry.

I also remember, though, experiencing a kind of lightening of the air around me. I think now I'd call it hope. I hoped in that moment there would be another way to imagine God. I chose to continue trusting the spirit-filled reality I knew, even though I now no longer had words to explain it.

In the years that followed, words came. I was introduced to new images, metaphors, ideas, theologies. They made sense to me. I found God again without abandoning myself.

Interestingly, translating these new images into my daily, personal relationship with God was much harder. Intellectually things made sense but my ability to be present with God suffered. I could think and talk about God all day long, but ask me to practice the presence of God, to pray, and nothing. I would sit there like a novice trying desperately to repeat a necessary technique she'd only ever lucked into the first time.  

The problem, of course, was my understanding of prayer hadn't yet caught up to my new ideas about God. What was prayer to look like now? How should I begin? Do I still say "Dear God"? Or, "Dear Sacred Spirit, Energy, the One Who is Both Us and Greater Than Us"? Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. How did prayer work now? Does God still intervene? Does prayer work at all?

These are the questions we'll be wondering about together in group this week. Consider adding your voice. If not, read on and LEARN : LISTEN : LOVE.

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I am a (Holy) Spirit person. I like to think of and experience God as a divine spirit or energy, moving in and through all things. I believe this Spirit moves us to be and love extravagantly every day, every moment. We don't always hear its calling - the divine voice is still and small, everything our culture is not - but it's there nonetheless, constant and patient.

The Spirit's unwillingness to shout can be frustrating. Even when we think we hear Its "voice," well, that's scary because the promptings usually take vulnerability and courage. And, we wonder, "What if I didn't really hear what I thought I heard? What if it's all mind games and nonsense?" Scarer still, we eventually realize we can't ever know, not really.  Faith, even thoughtful faith, always takes some, well, faith.

So instead of living into the mystery, some religious folks idolize the Bible or other sacred texts. Words are certain, right? Other folks stop listening all together. From my perspective, neither works very well. The Spirit's call is to consciousness, wholeness, peace; because we want this too, it's a call that becomes an ache when ignored.

But, it is scary. To think we'd hear the Spirit wrong. To know others assign It to their violence and greed. I don't dismiss this. I simply think these possibilities aren't worth a world disconnected from and unpracticed in hearing the Spirit. This divine energy not only guides us to our own wholeness, it guides the world to wholeness and our role in getting it there. We each have a unique calling, a vocation - things we're here to learn and be and do. The Spirit opens us to this calling, this wholeness, if we're willing. Want to risk it with me? 

What do you think of the idea of Spirit? A Divine Energy? Is it important, even possible, to learn to recognize Its "voice?" LISTEN, LEARN, LOVE... 

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