Sunday Self-Care: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

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“Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.”
— Richard Bach

As longtime readers of this blog know, the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull has had a profound impact on my life — so I was pretty excited a few weeks ago when I became aware that Richard Bach had released a revised, expanded edition.

Bach claims he wrote the novel in four parts but initially published only three. If this is true, this fourth part — published in 2013, more than 40 years after the first three were released — is downright prophetic.

Without giving away too many details, I’ll say that Bach delves into the tendency of worshipers to become so focused on dogma, tradition, and remaining firmly ensconced in their own comfort zone that they miss the underlying message of their chosen faith.

I’ve been increasingly frustrated with the Christian Establishment in recent years, for this very reason. Too many faith leaders seem to conflate spiritual truths with cultural traditions — or worse yet, political expediency.

In 2012, after watching error in the form of politics infiltrate the absolute last place I expected to find such nonsense, I walked away from organized religion altogether and tried, with varying degrees of success, to maintain my faith and my connection to God on my own.

Absent the structure and accountability a church provides, I found it slow going, though perhaps not as slow as it might have been had I been hampered by increasingly uncomfortable conflicts with people who seemed less interested in facilitating my spiritual growth than policing it.

Throughout my life, Jonathan Livingston Seagull has been my touchstone. The first edition of the book feels like an allegory for my own spiritual journey, and I tend to reread it whenever I find myself at a crossroads. It’s never disappointed me.

I suspect it’s not a coincidence, then, that I learned of the expanded edition around the same time I began visiting a local church that seems more inclusive and open-minded than some of the congregations to which I’ve belonged in the past.

My broken wings finally seem to be healing — and just as I’m attempting another flight, lo and behold, here’s Jonathan, as relevant now as he was the first time I encountered him 30-odd years ago, offering a new chapter that mirrors my experiences as well as the first three always have.

I don’t know yet whether I’ll join this church I’ve been test-driving. I’m still carrying baggage from the last go-’round, and I don’t trust as easily or commit as quickly as I did a decade ago. But even if I don’t, it’s reassuring to know, after all these years, that I’m still not flying alone.

Emily

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