Have you done much thinking “outside of the box?” We are being enjoined on all sides to do so. In fact the plea to “think outside of the box” has become such a cliche that it has lost most of its power to startle us into thinking in new ways. But it is still a useful image.
We live inside boxes, assumptions as to what is true and how things are to go. “What I believe is the only truth” and “We’ve always done it that way” is the hue and cry of those who are quite happy within their boxes or are afraid to peek out.
What does “thinking outside of the box” mean in relation to religion?
First you have to know what the “box” is. For many within the mainline churches, or the alumni of said churches, the answer is very hazy. We (I include myself) know that the old is not working. The box called “traditional Christianity” has disappeared, and we are struggling to find some clues as to what is emerging.
I think the central problem is “God.” This may be a purely personal confession, but I trust that in a general way I speak for many who have had a somewhat similar experience. The idea of a being up there who is all wise, all knowing, and intruding at will in human and cosmic affairs simply ceased to have meaning. It was the 1960’s cry of God-is-dead.
What goes around comes around. God is reappearing in the guise of spirituality. As part of the big change I have been talking about there is a lively interest in “spirituality.” “Spirituality” is a word that acknowledges an awareness of a realm or dimension that is in some sense “beyond” and yet is an intimate part of our everyday reality.
I would like to follow the Hebrew lead in being reluctant to utter the word “God.” We so easily refer to “God” in a palsy-walsy fashion, as if we clearly knew whom or what we are talking to or about. The Hebrews knew that “God” was beyond naming and that one must stand in awesome silence before the Ultimate Mystery.
Exploring other ways to speak of the Great Mystery – the words I am using are also inadequate – would force us to “think outside the box” and hopefully encourage a deeper respect for the awesomeness of life and universe and the mystery of it all.
Back when the accepted understanding of the universe was heaven, above, the earth, and hell down under (the three decker universe) it was quite possible to think of God as a being up in heaven keeping a watchful eye and in control of everything. Even in a Newtonian, clockwork, universe we could hold on to the belief in a God-out-there, even if such a God did not have much to do except watch the wheels go around.
With the twentieth century came Einstein with his theory of relativity and the quantum universe, which has given back to us the wondrous mystery of it all. Everything is related to everything else in obvious ways and in ways beyond our imagining. As a scientist has said, not only is the universe strange, it is stranger than we can imagine.
Now God, or the mysterious Nourishing Source of it all, has moved out of heaven and surrounds us on every side. “God” is the Energy that is the sustaining force of everything, an all pervasive Presence within us and within all things, an Inner Voice that urges us to be and to do what seems to be our purpose in the world.
The “box,” for many, is the rational, scientific, mechanical mind-set that is immune to the spiritual, mystical, reality of a quantum universe. This is the way of thinking that runs the world and is in danger of destroying it and us.
Go ahead and think outside the box. Our survival may depend on it. The world is wider and more wondrous that we ever imagined. And life is richer and fuller if we dare to leave our comfort zone and venture into the unknown.