Along the Way: Full-Spectrum Reality

If you have followed my writing here on Oboedire and elsewhere, you know that I have found the song “Deep and Wide” to be one of the best ones for understanding the spiritual life. Many of us learned the song as children, so it has been with us for decades inviting us to glean its insights and live its wisdom.

I lived most of my life in the “deep” part of the song. Spiritual depth was my aim, and “the deeper life” (as it is often called) was my working definition of a maturing spirituality. Over the years, I have benefitted immensely from the “deep” side of the song, and I continue to do so.

But like each day’s sunrise, the “wide” side of the song began to shine into my life, illuminating places where the “deep” light had not. There is no way that I can write about this in a blog-length post. But I can name some of the key ways the “wide” light has provided full-spectrum spirituality.

I begin with Scripture, as I have come to recognize its breadth and the diversity of ways people have read, interpreted, and lived its revelation—and doing so within the context of orthodoxy. The splendor of passages like Psalm 19 created a panoramic view of life, and my now longstanding practice of underlining places where the Bible speaks of universality (e.g. “all’ and “everywhere”) and the oneness of everyone and everything (e.g. interbeing and the second great commandment) has increased my reverence for life. More recently, the Bible’s revelation of the Universal Christ (e.g. John 1:3 and Colossians 3:11) has made my understanding of him as “the light of the world” richer than ever.

I move next to the Wesleyan tradition, with its diversity and ecumenism. More recently the Wesleys’ theology of nature has captured my attention and is increasing the light of faith. Charles Wesley tells me there are “a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise.” John Wesley’s multi-volume series on natural theology has helped me see the sacredness of all life—of sentient beings and inanimate beings too. All ground is holy, and as Macrina Wiederkehr put it, “every tree is full of angels.”

Within the Wesleyan tradition, I have been most influenced by E. Stanley Jones. Reading all his books (some more than once) has formed my faith to see that “Jesus is Lord” of everyone and everything. His seeing Christ in Gandhi and in world religions has given me a place to stand in order to experience the light and life which further illuminates my path. Jones’ book, ‘The Christ of Every Road’ shows how Pentecost fulfilled and commenced God’s plan from the beginning to unite all things, in heaven and on earth, in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

Through the Wesleys, I also came to see the light offered through the Franciscan tradition, beginning with Francis and Clare, but also in their successors into the present day. The Franciscan tradition’s insight that everything belongs has woven the “deep and wide” spectrum into a seamless tapestry of Reality.

And from this tradition, I have been encouraged to “ask the animals” (Job 12:7-9) and finding that they do indeed tell us things about God that humans do not perceive. Through them words like ‘consciousness’ and ‘intelligence’ now extend to the whole of creation, as the Umwelt effect teaches us that human perceptions are only a sliver of all that’s going on—one part of a string (Psalm 19:4) that winds its way through the cosmos.

“Deep and wide”–full-spectrum Reality. The kind that reveals light, life, and love from everywhere….the kind that tells us to share light, life, and love with everyone and everything.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 43 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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