So I was saying that the heart of true religion for me is the pursuit of reality.
It seems to me that the world we experience bears the marks (however damaged and disguised) of reason, goodness, beauty and love. These qualities are all elements of personality, and I find it hard to imagine how they could arise in the universe apart from an underlying Personality or Person.
So to me, the heart and core of reality is Personal. Reality at its most fundamental has the characteristics of personality, of a personal being rather than a force or impersonal energy. And if reality is personal then it (or he/she) is also surely relational. Or to put it more simply, God is love.
So pursuit of reality is also pursuit of a person. It’s the pursuit of the One who alone is truly real and who makes us truly real. It’s perhaps most like a passionate love affair, a romantic relationship.
Engaging with a personal reality
I said that we need to seek to understand and to line ourselves up with reality. Because reality is fundamentally personal and relational, we also need to engage with ‘it’ personally and relationally. And this is what worship and prayer, contemplation and mysticism are essentially about. Religion is not just a matter of the intellect or even just of ritual practice, though it can involve both. It’s a matter of the whole being in relationship with the divine being, the divine essence.
Indeed, worship and contemplation are ways in which we can start to align ourselves with the ultimate, foundational reality of God. They’re not the only ways of course; and there are other things we may need to do too. But the crux and nub is that religion is a relationship; a relationship with reality at its truest, deepest and most personal.
The Christian understanding of God has from very early on been the Trinity – a perfect unity of three persons in one being. How this works is beyond our ken, but it does say something very important about the kind of God we’re talking about. The Triune God is fundamentally and above all a God of relationship, of love, with an eternal and joyous communion of three persons always at its or his or their living heart. And that Trinity of love reaches out and draws all others into the circle of God’s embrace.
Which means that not only is true religion a relationship with the divine reality, but it is also a relationship with each other and even with ourselves. Relationship, love, is the heart and meaning and essence of reality; it’s what it’s all about. We are drawn into the magnetic love of God, and we become magnets drawing others to him and to ourselves.
I’ve often secretly felt that I’d be a better Christian by myself – without other people who distract and tempt, infuriate and provoke, and who I so easily hurt or am hurt by. But that would entirely miss the point. Periods of solitude can be spiritually helpful, but Christianity is fundamentally relational and can’t be lived in permanent isolation. How we treat people and how we relate to people may even be the most crucial part of our spiritual lives, more important than how we worship or pray or read Scripture.
The third and final strand for me is redemption – which encompasses liberation, healing, transformation, renewal.
Putting them all together, religion at its truest is a relationship with Reality which redeems us and others; a relationship in which we ourselves are redeemed and also participate in the redemption of the world.
Redemption is the process of being transformed from within from our ‘false’ or partial selves into our true and whole selves, and (simultaneously) into the full likeness of Christ. It is the process by which all our faults and flaws are overcome and even turned to the good, all our ugliness and brokenness becoming something of beauty. It is the process by which our sufferings and failures are transformed, given meaning and purpose, brought out to good ends.
Incarnation and resurrection
Redemption brings good out of bad, life out of death, victory out of defeat, hope out of despair. Redemption is the great work of God in a broken and messed-up world of broken and messed-up people. Redemption is the great message of Easter, of the resurrection of Christ.
And at the heart of redemption for me are both of the primary miracles of Christianity – resurrection and incarnation. The risen Jesus comes to live in us by his Spirit, enabling us to become Christlike, or if you prefer, to become Real. It’s by his active presence in us that we’re redeemed, raised to new life, made whole and healthy and real. And it’s by his active presence through us that we participate in the redemption of the world.
Incarnation and resurrection are not just for Christmas and Easter; not just ideas we recite in the Creed. They’re the living heart of Christianity, the dynamic engine of God’s redemptive purpose to raise and restore flawed nature and broken humanity, bringing us up into his utter reality, his life and light and love.
So redemption is relational, and is about restoring reality. Or you could say that reality is primarily about relationship, and that that relationship is redemptive. All of these elements tie up together, flow one into the other and back again, like a Celtic knot, like a picture of the interconnected Trinity of God’s being. This is religion I can believe in and want to be part of.