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Finding God Beyond Religion

Finding God Beyond Religion: A Guide for Skeptics, Agnostics and Unorthodox Believers Inside and Outside the Church
by Tom Stella
Woodstock, VT: SkyLights Paths Publishing, 2013
126 pages
Reviewed by Jacqueline Leksen

In Finding God Beyond Religion: A Guide for Skeptics, Agnostics & Unorthodox Believers Inside & Outside the Church, Tom Stella brings us directly into the shining truth residing at the center of all major spiritual traditions: that God is with us and within us, “the spiritual essence at the heart of creation,” the very “Ground of our being” (xviii). This book is “a love letter of sorts,” his response to discovering God present in all of life, “the Divine incarnate in nature and in our human nature” (xvii).

Stella, formerly a Catholic priest and now hospice chaplain, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, and counselor, speaks with a voice that is clear and prophetic, naming our time as hope-filled and liminal, a time of transition in the Western world “between an epoch of religion that is on the decline and an epoch of spirituality that is on the rise” (116).

The Reverend Canon Marianne Wells Borg writes in her foreword, “It is time for a new aggiornamento, ‘a bringing up to date’ for the church and for seekers of God,” and she asserts that this book provides just such a service. She views Stella’s proclamation that “God is not just within us … God is the within of us” as a truth that “changes everything” (xii). Stella’s engaging voice is a welcome addition to those of other current authors who sense that something new is being birthed by the Spirit in our time.

In nine highly readable chapters Stella uses his own experience and theological reflections to explore major themes: God, prayer, belief and faith, Jesus, mysticism, inspiration, morality, evil, and the church. At the conclusion of each chapter is a set of reflective “Questions for Your Own Journey.”

My heart wanted to sing as I read each paragraph of this beautifully written and well-researched book. Stella’s theme of God’s presence with us and in all of creation is surely the treasure hidden in the field, the tree of life described in the book of Revelation, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. It is the promised land of our deepest longings, the dawning realization that the Sacred is within us, that we are God’s dwelling place.

The author urges his readers to follow “the scent of the sacred along roads less traveled,” encouraging us to be “on the hunt” for God in each moment, for everything “is replete with the divinity for which we long” (117). He concludes with a stirring call to the “dance of God,” joining “with the dancers of all creeds and cultures to form one vast body that respects religious differences and moves beyond the antipathy and division those differences have caused” (118).

Remaining grounded in the biblical narrative of the Christian tradition and in the teachings of Jesus, Stella calls us to lives of social justice as he urges his readers to do what spiritual directors do each day: to listen for the voice of the Holy, to look for the face of God in every part of life. The spiritual direction community is being summoned to bring its gifts to the table in such a time as this.

Jacqueline Leksen provides spiritual accompaniment in Seattle and Lynnwood, Washington, USA, where she companions men and women from a wide variety of spiritual traditions, including those who struggle with homelessness. She completed a master’s degree in transforming spirituality at Seattle University, Washington.

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