Here, how a belief in God can go beyond the gospel truth.
My eyes fill with tears every time I hear "Amazing Grace." Watching Barack Obama break into an a cappella version at the funeral for the Charleston pastor and his bible study group gunned down last year had me blubbering alone in front of CNN: for all his oratorical splendour, he is not a natural singer, but the raw authenticity struck a chord.
The words in the song that nail me every time are "How precious did that grace appear/The hour I first believed."
I believe in God. Amazing how many years it took for me to say that to myself, let alone out loud.
And amazing how radical it feels to me, after half a lifetime of being more concerned about being cool and intellectually superior to what I long considered sheep-like behaviour.
But grace did come to me one day, all of a piece, sitting on a hard pew in a soaring church in Quebec City, with the morning light of a crisp fall day streaming through a stained glass window. The hour I first believed came in the form of a physical lightness and a freedom. No question it was a gift. To me, it felt as if I had finally grown-up.
I have work to do to earn this grace. I'm a great admirer of Karen Armstrong, the comparative religions scholar. bestselling author and former nun. Her book about renouncing her vows is called The Spiral Staircase, after the T.S. Eliot poem "Ash Wednesday" in which the author painfully climbs upward toward salvation.
She doesn't mince words: "Religion is hard work. Its insights are not self-evident and have to be cultivated in the same way as appreciation of art, music or poetry must be developed."
Boomers are no strangers to spirituality. They are also iconoclasts, rebels and individuals and demand efficient, quantifiable answers. But what if the era of alternative New Age forms of enlightenment - from meditation to yoga to crystals to Oprah - is drawing to a close?
After witnessing the awed reception Pope Francis received on his recent American tour, there is little doubt the Pontiff brings a groundswell of goodwill and refreshed energy not just to his own Catholic flock but to the rest of us. We are simultaneously dazzled and humbled by his tactile, humanist approach. I myself have an image of the people's pope on my key chain, carried in a completely unironic way.
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