I thought you might be referring to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but since there is also the Parable of the Two Sons I figured I was wrong. So, let me take you up on the offer to comment on the Prodigal Son story as it is one of the most subversive of Jesus’ teachings.
For those who might not remember, the story is of a father with two sons, one who is dutiful and the other wayward. When the latter finds himself at rock bottom he returns home asking only to be accepted back as a slave. His father welcomes him home with full honors, much to the chagrin of the dutiful son.
The reason the story is so subversive is that the father, who is of course God, neither stops the wayward son from being wayward nor punishes him for the life he has chosen. God is beyond reward and punishment; God simply allows us to reap what we sow. We make our own heaven and hell, and God won’t keep us from either. But when we hit rock bottom—that is to say when we have taken the illusion of our separation from God and godliness so far as to leave ourselves unable to function—and ask to come home, i.e. ask to be reawakened to the radical nonduality of woman, man, nature, and God, God is only too happy to do so.
This kind of God is so NOT the god most people want. Most people want a god who welcomes them and rejects those that they themselves reject. We create god in our image to justify the lives we want to live and the evil we desire to do. Religion is too often simply an institutional expression of human fear, anger, ignorance, and greed. Religions, especially those that mistake monotheism (there is one God) for monopolistic theism (there is one God and we control him), hate the theology of Jesus. If they can ignore it, they will. If they can’t ignore it, they will pervert it.
Obviously I have strong feelings about this, but I am not that far off the mark.
I agree with you, Mike, that religion provides structure, meaning, and direction, and I agree that many other things do as well, I simply doubt that any institution can be trusted when it comes to questions of justice and mercy.
I prefer to understand religion etymologically. It comes from the Latin religio, which itself is a combination of two words: ligare, “bind, connect” and the prefix re which gives us the meaning “reconnect.” Religion is the way we overcome the illusion of our separation from God and reconnect, or as I put it, realize our unbroken unity with God, the One who manifests as the many. Religion for me is more about contemplative practice than about creed, belief, and the politics of piety.
While I value the need for community, I find little need for organized religion in my life. What I do need are contemplative practices designed to wake me up from the egoic illusion of Divine separation. You mentioned one of these practices, Centering-Prayer, as central to your life, and I would urge people to look into this practice either by finding a community devoted to it or by reading any of the books by Father Thomas Keating, one of the two living gurus of contemporary Centering Prayer practice.
For anyone interested in Jewish contemplative practice I would recommend Minyan, Ten Practices for Living a Life of Integrity, and for anyone interested in an interfaith approach to compassion I would recommend The Sacred Art of Loving-Kindness. Yes, this is a shameless plug since I wrote both of these books, but I trust you will have mercy on me for trying to make a living.