Monday, July 19, 2010

Spirituality 101

Just caught a Canadian panel of editors on CPAC, discussing the future of  their industry. Editor of The Tyee magazine in Vancouver, David Beers, when answering a question about "new beats" for newspapers, offered this idea: a beat including early child development, nutrition, environment, parenting, and what is going on in school with that same child. A remarkable stew of useful insight, especially important to relieve the anxieties of young parents.
Another idea came the editor of the Vancouver Sun, and it focuses on "work-life balance and spirituality" issues, concerns and solutions.
The discussion got me thinking specifically about "male spirituality."
The word spirituality is used so frequently, and so glibly that one has to wonder what precisely the users want it to mean. Of course, it is used as a direct comparision, and opposition to the institutional church, as in, "I don't go to church because I find no meaning there, but I have a deep spirituality."
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says this about spirituality:
It is used to refer to people's subjective practice and experience of their religion, or to the spiritual exercises and beliefs which individuals or groups have with regard to their personal relationship with God. It is used to regard prayer, meditation, contemplation, and mysticism as major factors in spirituality.
The word "spiritualitas" is first attested in the 5th century, referring to the quality of life which should result from the spiritual gifts imparted to all who believe in Christ....from the 12th century on, a 'spiritual life' came to be regarded as more or less identical with interior religion and the explicitly  devotional practices used to foster it.
Karen Armstrong, in "The Case for God," writes: "In archaic spirituality, a symbolic return to the formless "nothingness" of the beginning was indispensable to any new creation. It was possible to move forward only if you had the courage to let go of the present, unsatisfactory state of affairs, sink back into the potent confusion of the beginning and begin again." (p. 19)
Of course, the Christian church has groups that formed around certain specific rules (of the monastery/convent) to which all members of the order would submit, commit and follow obediently.
So, in the Christian tradition, Franciscans, Jesuits, Benedictines etc. became known as followers of specific "rules of life" designed to lead one into a deeper relationship with God.
And here is the great overused word, especially in contemporary culture, "relationship".
Building relationships with clients, customers, parishioners, and with God has become a growth industry.
What does it mean to each individual, and to the larger group (the family, the church, the choir, the community) to build relationships? Of course, it is personal, subjective and highly emotional in its pursuit  of specific activities, the evaluation of those activities on individual relationship's with God and with others, and in the communication of those evaluations with others in and out of the group.
Most people, especially most men, do not speak much about their relationship with God, because to do so is very difficult. This relationship is often clouded in competitive comparisons with others, who, too, are following a "spiritual discipline" in their discipleship.
Are you closer to God, than I am?
Is that family closer to God, that our family?
Is that church closer to God in its practice of its faith and its religion than the one down the street?
Is a ritual of prayer, at meals, at morning and evening, before or after business meetings a part of the spiritual discipline of those participating?
Is attendance at church a part of one's spiritual discipline? (Similarly, teaching Sunday School, or serving as a trustee, or treasurer, or even as clergy?)
Is reading the Bible/Torah/Koran an integral part of one's spiritual discipline? Is discussing the passages being read part of the same discipline?
I once said to a corporate executive, "Where do you want to be in your spiritual development and growth in three years?"
He looked blank, changed the subject and ended the conversation. Oh, but he was a "friend of the bishop" and proud of that relationship.
He expressed pride in having "driven the last priest from our church, because he was not spiritual enough!" So, while refusing to deal with his own spiritual growth and development, even by asking what I might have meant by my question, he was clearly confident in his initiative to dismiss a clergy "because was not spiritual enough." My take on his explanation: He thought the dismissed clergy was not charismatic enough, not evangelical enough, not proficient at recruitment and growing the numbers in the church quickly enough, and not excited enough about his faith and the growth of the parish.
And that is not "spirituality;" it is salesmanship. And there is a huge difference!
And most men don't get the difference. Even some women don't get the difference. I once had a woman announce to me, "Jesus was the world's greatest salesman!" And that's not spirituality either.
Billy Graham excelled at bringing people to Christ, as in having some kind of conversion experience. Yet his theology was quite judgemental, quite black and white and quite exclusionary. Evangelism and spirituality are not the same thing; neither is the decalogue (Ten Commandments) equateable with spirituality.
Being Irish, I am often found giving directions about how "not" to get to Dublin, when asked for directions on how "to" get to Dublin. Similarly, with the question, "What is spirituality?"
One of the real concerns I have about any discussion of spirituality is its interface with the subject of "power" within the religious community, and the "power" of my relationship with God being used against the "lack of power" of your relationship with God.
If my commitment to God seems bigger, somehow, than your's, who is counting? Not me. Who wants to know? Why does s/he want to know?
If my spiritual discipline is more freeing than your's, once again, who is comparing and why?
If my spiritual life includes church membership, does that make me a better disciple of God than someone who has not joined a church? Who says?
If my donations are bigger than your's, am I a better Christian than you? How do you know?
If we are going to begin to examine 'spirituality' we have to establish that we are not, none of us, in a competition for the love of God. And that is a starting place for me.
Emptying my mind, heart and spirit of my fears, ambitions, drives (including the drive to power) and  busyness is the only place I can begin to enter any spiritual exercise. And that is no mean feat! This speaks to the return to the nothingness of all beginnings that Karen Armstrong writes about above.
And then remaining silent is next, so that I might possibly, just might, hear a still small voice that I had never heard before about something I was struggling with evoking a new feeling, or a potential action, or a new direction about my struggles within.
And then repeating both the emptying, and the silence in a deliberate and regular manner...that's next and that is no mean feat, either.
Occasionally, I like to include a passage from scripture before I become quiet and silent, so that I meditate on those words.
Occasionally, I like to include a passage from a piece of religious music that moves me, and I meditate on my experience of that music...its melody, its poetry, its rhythm, its themes, and its impact on me.
Occasionally, I like to find a poem from another "seeker" or pilgrim on which to meditate.
Sometimes, in the silence, I might choose to write a few words of my own...not knowing where they are coming from, and certainly not knowing where they are going.
And that's enough for today, boys and girls. Time to play!

No comments:

Post a Comment