A few weeks ago when I was in Maine having a reunion with some of the people with whom I went to boarding school in India for part of 1956, one of my classmates, in response to a question, described her involvement in a spiritual group called the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, or MSIA.
I'll share a bit of that today, along with some more about MSIA I gleaned from a book MSIA that contains interviews with the movements founder plus a current leader because it gives me a chance to remind us that what scholars now refer to as New Religious Movements seem to crop up regularly in the U.S. And it's hard to get a complete picture of the American religious landscape if we ignore these various kinds of religious and spiritual groups that keep forming.
So, first, here's some of what my friend Esther said about MSIA:
"I rarely explain my spiritual practice to anyone because it is sacred to me and something of a mystical tradition—thus highly personal—and also, very few ask about it. So here’s my point of view; someone else would probably describe MSIA differently:
primary teaching of MSIA is
soul transcendence, which is awareness of oneself as being one with the
Divine. All the teachings of John-Roger, or J-R, the MSIA founder, are
directed toward awakening us to that. Our primary spiritual practice is
called spiritual exercise, a form of mediation that involves inner
(silent) chanting and listening.
"The main theological points. . .are:
Out of God comes all things.
God loves all of its creation.
Not one soul will be lost.
"That being said, J-R promotes practical spirituality, which is about how to live in the world; the three guidelines I mentioned are remarkably comprehensive, when you think about them:
* Take care of yourself, so you can help take care of others.
* Don’t hurt yourself and don’t hurt others.
* Use everything for your advancement (upliftment), learning, and growth.
"John-Roger describes himself as the Mystical Traveler, a term that I
think he invented because it has no tradition surrounding it. I see him
as a spiritual Way-shower who anchors the highest-level spiritual energy
(characterized by loving, compassion, forgiveness, the Christ energy)
on the planet; historically, there has always been at least one Traveler
on the planet, often an individual who has made very significant
contribution to human advancement.
"People who choose to participate in MSIA can become initiates of the Traveler (and there are, of course, levels of initiation) and ordained ministers. . .if they wish. Being a minister in the Church of Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness is quite different from being a Protestant minister (though legally one can perform the functions of a Protestant minister). I am an ordained minister in MSIA, though I often don’t share that with people because it’s such a loaded term.
"A few other miscellaneous points in no particular order:
"J-R started teaching in the late 1960s; he has published many books, tapes, CDs, etc., and taught us many ways/tools to clear the consciousness and align with Spirit. He is getting quite old now. The person who now holds the Mystical Traveler keys is John Morton.
"The MSIA community members around the country generally meet in homes or community places; there is a beautiful mansion in Los Angeles, called Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens (or its older name, Prana), that is the church headquarters (I lived there for six years. . .). There are small MSIA communities in many countries.
"Jesus Christ is regarded as head of the church, yet we “believe” in karma and re-embodiment, contrary to most Christian traditions.
"J-R says service is the highest form of consciousness on the planet; thus that’s an important emphasis. “Your work here is to serve and love your neighbor as yourself” (from the MSIA mission statement).
"The MSIA version of prayer is called sending the Light and asking for Spirit’s assistance. Judging oneself or others is off course. Self-forgiveness is the antidote.
"People usually participate in MSIA by subscribing to Discourses (small booklets by J-R on spiritual topics, one a month for 12 years); taking classes prepared by Peace Theological Seminary in LA; attending 5 or 6 day Peace Awareness Trainings; attending home seminars. (But one doesn’t have to do any of those things, either; it’s one’s inward connection to Spirit that matters.)
"The University of Santa Monica, a private graduate school that offers a
masters degree in Spiritual Psychology, is associated with MSIA—and I’ve
taken their excellent program. http://www.universityofsantamonica.edu/
"Oh, gosh, there’s so much more to say, as I’m sure you understand. http://www.msia.org."
Esther arranged for MSIA to send me a small book called Interviews with John Morton and John-Roger, which explains this movement further, or at least tries.
As a Christian rooted in the Reformed Tradition, I was able to grasp much of what J-R and Morton said but was mystified by some of it, too.
I especially appreciated J-R's insistence that God is so far beyond our ability to comprehend that if we do define God "in some way, then we're lying by definition, because He's so much bigger than that."
And I liked John Morton's comment that "We're not here to say, 'This is the way.' For my consciousness, it is the way, and I have a responsibility to that experience."
There are dozens of New Religious Movements, and what I've told you about MSIA will have to represent what could be said about others. If you're interested in a good rundown on such movements, the book to read is The Baker Pocket Guide to New Religions, by Nigel Scotland. The book covers 40 such movements, but not MSIA.
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