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I sat in church with my family on Easter Sunday, smelling the lilies and enjoying the spring finery with which the worshippers were adorned. The congregation, much larger than usual, heard the pastor talk about what was permanent in religion. He spoke of our connection not only to the events of the past but to fellow believers across the world on that festive day. What we were doing, he told us, was honoring the traditions which define us.

This morning, I listened to the increasingly discouraging reports of the pope's physical decline. As part of the coverage, they showed a retrospective of his life. I have great respect for this man. I think he is a spiritual giant, a person of sincere faith and love. An archbishop commented during the piece that, while the pope was in many ways a modern man, some people took issue with his rock-solid conservative stance - no abortion, no divorce, no ordination for women, no relaxing of the demand for celebacy, etc. The priest pointed out that it was the pope's job to maintain the tradition, to defend the integrity of the institution from the inroads of modern society.

It is apparent to me why we are having such a difficult time moving from a traditional paradigm to a new spiritual one. Structure. The church does an exceptional job of creating an attractive and alluring structure. Look the elements of that structure - buildings, liturgies, festivals, traditional decorations, ancient story lines, an authoritative hierarchy, and the certainty that the millions of believers across 2000 years can't all be wrong.

New-age/new-thought people suffer from lack of structure. In fact, they understand that their future lies in the opposite direction, in small groups, in individual exploration and discovery. They know that truth is inspired internally in the hearts of individuals by the Holy Spirit, rather than externally to the masses by the institution. But that lack of structure gives searchers nothing to grasp. A small study group in a home is much less impressive than a building like St. John the Divine. And while the church boasts about its monolithic belief system, new thought groups appear chaotic, with each one seeing a different vision of the truth.

Lack of structure may well be a drawback as far as the spread of the new spirituality is concerned. But it also a sign of maturity. When we are children, we live in our father's house. There we are safe, well fed, clothed, trained and told what to think. When we come of age, we venture out into the world where we have to fend for ourselves in a sometimes hostile environment.

Structure is external. The new spiritual age is internal. When the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts, it creates a new kind of fellowship, one based not on tradition but on a sincere quest for the truth.

Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, 'Look, here it is!' or, 'There it is!'; because the Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke17:20-21)

Posted 4-01-05

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2005