Numinous

Ever since I was a child, I never liked the ‘r’ word. Religious. Ugh. Often, people that are not Christians will use that word in conversation, as if it will bridge an invisible gap between themselves and what they see as my version of uniqueness. “Well, *I’ve* never been religious like you, so…” or “Is that something you do/don’t do because you’re religious?” – and so on. Until recently, that word had the power to trigger what I thought was righteous anger, but what was probably closer to very non-righteous snobbery. “It’s not a religion, it’s a RELATIONSHIP”, I’d say in a tone that would suggest I was speaking to a 5 year old instead of a friend or coworker. “There’s a DIFFERENCE.”

Okay, Liz. Let’s not get caught on semantics. People use the words they know, and hey, at least they’re engaging in the topic itself. My mind, and range of reactions, has been expanding to include graciousness at the onset of these conversations, whether or not the ‘r’ word makes its appearance. And this evening I felt some expansion in a wholly unexpected direction to boot.

I was savoring the last few pages of Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis (bought for a C. S. Lewis class in college and picked up for a second reading after 6 years) when revelation struck. Lewis took most of a page to compare/contrast the writing of the Gospels to that of myth and history, and the punch, for me, came at the tail end:

“Here {in the Bible} and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man. This is not “a religion,” nor “a philosophy.” It is the summing up and actuality of them all.”

I remember the upper front wall in my 8th grade history classroom had a row of pictures along it, each picture symbolizing a different religion. (I believe – pun intended? – that the Christianity picture showed the statue of Christ the Redeemer from a somewhat unflattering angle.) That memory sprang up as I processed these sentences, and I had an urge to unpin the Christianity picture from that history classroom wall. “This is not a religion.” As said before, I have no issues with separating the “r” word from my relationship with God. But Lewis took me further. Christianity is not a religion. Yes, belief and faith and worship are all included, but it is completely unfounded to place Christianity in the lineup with other world systems of belief. If God is God, then there is no other. There are none beside Him. He is not the figurehead of a religious system, but Ultimate Truth. Christians, followers of Christ Jesus, do not live by the rules and restrictions of a religion, but by the truth inherent in all of creation. He has torn the curtain, He has taken away the veil. Here, there is freedom.

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