What is the essence of the Christian religion? What does it mean to be a “religious” person? “Increase in us true religion,” we pray in the Episcopal Church. True religion: what is that?
The word religion derives from the Latin “ligare,” which loosely translated means to “bind” or “connect.” Re-ligare (religion) means to re-bind or to re-connect. The essence of true religion is, therefore, always a re-binding or re-connecting to God.
Most people assume that the central purpose of Christianity is to give people a set of practices and a fair amount of motivation to help them re-connect to God. It’s our job, we think, to re-bind ourselves to God. Hence the massive guilt and shame we experience when confronted with the feeling of God’s absence. “It’s my fault,” we say. “I need to work on my relationship with God. I need to read the Bible. I need to go to Church. I am responsible for re-binding to God.” This, we assume, is the essence of true religion–our willingness to put forth the effort that is required to re-connect with God.
But what if we have the whole thing backwards? What if the Gospel is the good news that God has already and is always re-connecting and re-binding God’s Very Self to us? What if we are not the hunters but the hunted? “For however devoted you are to God," Meister Eckhart reminds us, "you may be sure that God is immeasurably more devoted to you.”
It’s a good thing to want to re-connect to God, but it is far better to experience a deep and overflowing gratitude that flows from the knowledge that God is always re-connecting to us. This is the essence of true religion.