All posts filed under: Divine Mystery

Heaven and Hell

So what about heaven and hell after death? What role do they play in human flourishing? When my kids were little, my parents would sometimes come up to spend the weekend with us in Concord. On Sunday mornings, we would attend First Parish in Concord, and of course, my parents would come with us. I remember one particularly beautiful Sunday morning standing on the church’s front steps with my father following worship. “How many people attended worship this morning?” Dad asked. “About four hundred or so,” I replied. “And none of them believe in hell or eternal damnation?” “We are universalists,” I said, “so none believe in hell or damnation.” “So why don’t they stay home on Sunday and read the New York Times?” he questioned. “UUs come for spiritual community,” I answered, “neither for fear of hell nor lusting after heaven.” The religious metaphors of heaven and hell are, I think, usually intended as aids to devotion. These concepts are borrowed from mystics who describe heaven and hell as a human psychological state in …

Spiritual Audacity by Jim Sherblom

Discipline Six: Awakening

Seeking direct experience, but mindful of my physical limitations, I found myself on a long flight to India on New Year’s Eve. I was in search of enlightenment, knowledge, gnosis, wisdom, insight, oneness, ecstasy, and awakening—all terms used to point toward that spark of the divine which feels like salvation in one religious tradition or another. Plato offered one of the most cited metaphors of this spiritual state of clarity in his allegory of the cave. He describes a group of people imprisoned in a cave since childhood, chained in such a way that a fire burns brightly behind them and casts shadows on the wall before them. Talking among themselves, they come to understand what is happening out of their range of sight simply by paying attention to the shadows on the wall. This is the only reality they have ever known.  Then one prisoner breaks free, and his reality is changed forever. As this former prisoner’s eyes adjust to the sunlight beyond the cave, allowing him to see all the beauty of the …

Jim Sherblom - Transitions

Discipline Five: Mystery

The first mystery is simply that there is a mystery. A mystery that can never be explained or understood. Only encountered from time to time. Nothing is obvious. Everything conceals something else. The Hebrew word for universe Olam comes from the word for hidden. Something of the Holy One is hidden within.  — “Honey From the Rock” by Lawrence Kushner  My childhood faith was formed within a loving caring small town Baptist community.  But as to the nature of God, more was concealed than revealed.  As young adults Loretta and I chose to raise our kids and anchor our faith within the Unitarian Universalism of First Parish in Concord.  Its broad inclusive affirmation of the worth and dignity of every person, seeking justice, equity and compassion in human relations, and acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations fit our sense of the divine mystery. But what do I intend to convey with words such as God or divine mystery?  The existential “God is dead” movement was popular among some Protestant …

A Disturbance in the Force

A Christian scholar pursues enlightenment through studying Chinese Taoism, meditating with Tibetan Buddhists, practicing meditation with Hindu holy men, whirling with Islamic Sufi dervishes, and finally traveling with shaman using psychotropic drugs. Huston Smith was a huge influence on my spiritual path. He died this week at age 97. I have taught “Introductions to Sacred Texts” using his book “The World’s Religions.” His studies with U U theologian Henry Nelson Wieman provided a context for much of his subsequent study of human flourishing through religion making him very relevant for U U’s. His life story became a very important exemplar for my own journey. Reading his spiritual memoir, “Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine” both inspired some of my more esoteric spiritual adventures but was also partly inspiration for my spiritual memoirs, “Spiritual Audacity: Six Disciplines for Human Flourishing” and “Spiritual Pilgrim: My journeys with Christian, Sufi, Taoist and Shamanic Mystics.” His calm wisdom will be missed, but the world is better for his having lived so long. Jim

Mekong Pilgrimage

My world spiritual pilgrimage will continue next week as I fly to Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam to travel with a group up the Mekong River to Ankor Wat. Our journey will include daily lectures by Yale professors on the religion, art, and culture of the peoples with whom we will interact. After a week traveling through rural parts of Vietnam we will cross over into Cambodia, where we will visit the killing fields, Phnom Penh, Angkor Ban, and Siem Reap on our way to the Buddhist temples of Ankor. I continue to work with my editor to revise and adapt my first book “Spiritual Audacity: Six Disciplines for Human Flourishing” which is currently scheduled for publication in September 2017. While I am traveling I have scheduled two additional blog posts from my website telling the story of my fall from TSI and my finding hope again. I hope those of you who are following my story which find these interesting. Upon my return from Vietnam and Cambodia I expect to begin blogging on generosity …

Diverse Baptisms

Baptist youth achieve young adulthood around the age of thirteen. They become Christians by studying their Bible, faithfully attending worship services, participating in Christian youth activities, and being plunged below moving water in what Baptists call full immersion baptism. As I approached my thirteenth birthday was quite ambivalent about being baptized. Didn’t know if God thought I was ready yet. But my kid sister Pat, eleven months younger than me, declared she felt ready. So ready or not prepared to take the plunge! Knew what to expect from reading about Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:10: “Just as he was coming up out of the water he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove upon him.” Was pretty sure the affirmation Jesus received from God: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” was unique to his situation. But was still counting on seeing the heavens opening and descent of the spirit. At least some kind of warm feeling of welcome and well done good and faithful …

Jim Sherblom - Transitions

Baptists Love Freely

In 1638 twenty three Baptist exiles from the colony of Massachusetts had signed the Portsmouth Compact, and baptized each other in Founder’s Brook to create America’s first Baptist church, soon to be located in Providence, RI. On my second birthday, October 6, 1957, my father Rev. Edward Sherblom at the age of 36 became the founding pastor of Founder’s Memorial Baptist Church in Portsmouth RI with three dozen members in this newly covenanted freely loving Baptist congregation. That Sunday’s Providence Journal includes a wonderful picture of Ed holding me, his two year old son James Peter, named after James the first head of the church in Jerusalem and Peter the first head of the church in Rome, explaining the Portsmouth Compact to me. Growing up in a minister’s family, as a preacher’s kid, often has an incredible impact on a child, usually positive. In the Baptist tradition a minister is expected to look for signs of the Holy Spirit in at least one child in every generation and groom that child for the Baptist ministry. …