Recently I went to a Christian church service for a baptism. I hadn't been to church for a while. I grew up kind of going to an Episcopal church. We weren't regulars, but we went more often than just Christmas and Easter. There were points in my formative years where we went fairly regularly, as well as plenty of dry spells where we hardly went at all. All of that to say, I'm familiar enough with Protestant churches to know the flow of service and have the regular prayers memorized.
One thing I didn't particularly remember but was struck by with the service I attended recently was the focus on sin. My guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, said, "The greatest sin is to call oneself a sinner." This quote came back to me many times as I listened to this service, because the overarching theme of the time spent there was that we are born sinners, and God sacrificed his Son for our sins. I don't mean that the minister went on about this during his sermon - his sermon was inspiring, in fact, as he challenged the congregation to put more emphasis on their spiritual lives and incorporate it more fully in all aspects of their lives, which I agree with wholeheartedly and is the heart of my personal meditation practice. The focus on sin was, instead, a consistent theme in the readings, the baptism itself, and the music.
This is, of course, not unique to that particular church. This is a very normal way to approach the teachings of the bible, focusing on the sins. But, to what end? How does it make us grow to spend our reflective time in church scanning our minds thinking of all the wrong we have done? And what is the lesson behind God sending Jesus to die for us so we can be absolved of those sins? That our work is done, and it's all a wash because Jesus did the hard part for us? I don't really see where there is room for growth in this approach. There is certainly value in reflection. There is value in recognizing and owning our mistakes. Releasing ourselves from those mistakes by offering them to a higher power is also valuable. But, if the core of your spiritual time is spent focusing on the sins, are you taking the opportunity to focus on who you want to become? That seemed to me to be the part that was missing.
If I am attending a church each Sunday, and every Sunday the readings, the music, the call and response, nearly the entire hour is reinforcing that I am a sinner, then (assuming I am paying attention and not just there to tick my weekly "church" box on my to-do list) I come away feeling pretty hopeless about how I never seem to get anything right! Is that the message Jesus delivered? When I read his teachings, I feel that he was always trying to deliver a message that heaven is within, that we are all children of God, we need to love each other, and he saw his living life (not his death) as an example that all people could use to better their own lives.
The author Rob Bell does a wonderful job exploring this topic. I've enjoyed reading his books What We Talk About When We Talk About God and Love Wins. He is much more studied on the bible and Christianity than I am. His books are entertaining, thought-provoking, and full of love for Jesus (and all).
I really have learned a lot about Christ's teachings through Paramhansa Yogananda's teachings, as have so many yogis with Christian beginnings. Through those teachings, I view Jesus as someone who wanted people to have a personal connection with God to better themselves. I don't see his message as one of driving home how full of sin everyone is, but one of acceptance and striving for growth.
If the focus is on sin, we are always looking backwards at where we have been. We are focusing on what we have done already, and dwelling there. If we want to grow, we need to look ahead. Not as we already are, or what we have been, but what we want to become. It can help to visualize who we want to be, talk about who we want to become/how we want to improve/which direction we are stretching ourselves, and even start living today in the way that will get us there. We can't do any of that if we are turned backwards, looking at the past, dwelling on our mistakes.
So, if that type of spiritual practice appeals to you, where you are lead to focus on your sins for an hour or more each week, then by all means keep it up. But even if that is the case, why not try allotting extra time throughout the week to augment your spiritual practice of going to church by making a little time for yourself to contemplate your growth. Not by reflecting on what you aren't going to do anymore, but by contemplating what you want to do next to facilitate who you want to become. Meditation is a great way to get yourself into that space where you can connect with your Higher Self to work toward your growth and get you to where you need to be.
I am an Ananda® certified meditation teacher. I am passionate about meditation and embrace a yogic lifestyle for greater wellness physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
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