By David Benner
Someone recently told me that she preferred my earlier books to my recent ones and wondered why I no longer wrote with an explicitly Christian voice. She asked if these changes were due to a shift in my theology.
As I think it should for all of us, my theology has certainly continued to evolve over the years. It’s hard for me to imagine how we could grow in our understanding of self, others and the world and our ideas and ways of relating to Ultimate Mystery remain static. But, the difference this woman noticed is not so much a reflection of changes in my views of God as changes in my understanding of what it means to be human and the priority of our humanity in any authentic spirituality.
As a young adult I thought the most important thing I could do was to be a good Christian. Slowly, however, it began to dawn on me that there was something even deeper than my faith – something that couldn’t be taken for granted but needed to be nurtured. And that was my humanity. I began to see that the point of Christianity is not to rescue us from our humanity but to show us the way to fulfill it. I began to see that this journey of fulfilling our humanity was integral to any authentic spirituality.
This is the way of Christ. But it’s a hugely missing element of most of those who claim to be following Christ. So much of Christian spirituality has been built around a journey of perfection rather than completion. It’s been about holiness rather than wholeness. It has involved viewing our humanity as a default state that needs to be transcended.
I wrote my earlier books much more as a Christian than as a human being. There is nothing wrong with this. Most Christian authors do the same. However, I have become convinced that my humanity, much more than my spiritual tradition, is the foundation of my self.
And I am convinced that if I don’t embrace this foundation fully any other level of identity will be shallow, superficial and ungrounded. I have also discovered that when I speak from my own tradition but out of the depths of my humanity (not merely my religious experience and beliefs), seekers from other traditions or none are then able to connect to what I am describing. I know this because the same is true for me.
Far from merely a change in writing style, this has been a shift in my identity and my sense of calling. It would be surprising, therefore, if it were not reflected in my writing. But it isn’t primarily about writing. It’s about being. It has involved an embrace of my humanity that has allowed me to bring it along with me on my spiritual journey.
It has arisen as a fresh appreciation of the deep interconnectedness of the human and spiritual journeys. It has been and continues to be the greatest journey of my life! I hope the same is true for you. Helping make that happen is the core of my calling and reason I write.