Saturday, June 29, 2013

Spirituality 201

Literature, that is fiction, poetry, drama, was approached as a window on the question of the difference between "appearance and reality"...posing the questions of motive, truth, hiding, dissembling, and even the differences between the literal and the metaphoric....
In the midst of this exploration of the clashing of appearances and reality, of course, there is a question of the words used to both disclose and to conceal. Dependent on the meaning sent and received of those words, lives are changed forever. And one's experience is highly instrumental in determining the meaning of words...sent and decoded.
Science, at least for neophytes, boasts of its command of the empirical universe, naming, defining combining and re-combining elements, generating equations and theories that require even more experimentation with new equations...all of them dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of the universe, that universe that is available to the senses.
Exploring questions of one's spiritual life, on the other hand, means often borrowing approaches from science, from history, from philosophy, even from sociology and mysticism. In fact, 'knowing' about something as complicated as a human being's relationship with God, is fraught with so many questions and so many tentative answers that such 'knowing' itself becomes unknowable....and mystics often speak of living in a "cloud of unknowing"....open to the empirical and to the mysteries in a state of receptivity, openness, searching and even perplexity. Even 'knowing' oneself, a kind of existential primer, is a search without a formal and final conclusion. Others continue to unpack the truth of one's life and meaning long after one has physically departed this orb. Biographies of some people continue to emerge from scholarship even centuries after the date of the death of those subjects, each of those biographies attempting to shed light on a canvas portrait to which all are invited and welcomed to contribute.
Similarly with God, the most sought-after entity, whose 'biography' and portrait continue to emerge from both the pens and brushes of writers and artists, as well as from the tomes of systematic theology scholars, ethicists, prophets and even the acts of religious disciplines, communities and shamans.
Stories abound of lives initially charged with a disciplined search for "God's meaning for my life" through the pursuit of scholarship, of religious community, of reading, fasting, praying, meditating...only for many of those individuals to find that their wildest imaginings and their most feverent beliefs and passions and impulses were thwarted by the people around them whose approach seemed more like a "paint-by-number" experience of fitting into the community by espousing in words and deeds, the expectations of that religious community...whether that is a religious denomination, a segment of that faith, or some other established formal organization.
There is a kind of initial comfort to the experience of 'fitting in' to a religious community, that benefits from the confirmation of the tradition's expectations and the integration of those traditions into one's daily life experience. And yet, there is, in the human spirit, a kind of energy or wind or fire that impels one onwards past the "acceptance and affirmation" of the community who seem to "know" how to be an appropriate participant...
And it is that energy, wind, fire, curiosity even doubt that impels many outward from the comfort of the religious community into further doubt and discovery and mystery...both of who one is and how one is in relation to a 'higher power' of whatever form and meaning that might take. It is out on the edges that we find both the 'rejects' of our societies and the 'rejects' from many of the more strict religious communities...it is on the edges that one sharpens one's questions about that universal and timeless question, "What's it all about?" Of course, one needs and grows from the initial exposure to and discipline of some tradition of religious life. And that discipline can and often does also threaten to 'cap' one's pilgrimmage with the comfort of the affirmation of the community.
There is a kind of interior questioning of the "appearance-reality" dichotomy that began back in those highschool literature classes, that can infuse one's search for one's spiritual birthing.
Is one going to live "inside" the rules and the expectations of one's religious community, as part of a team of evangelists who attempt to bring others into the fold? Is one comfortable with  a kind of marketing of one form of a religious community's faith, as the one most appropriate and most closely alligned with the tenets of a religious text? Does the exegesis of that religious text meet the highest standards of both scholarship and of spiritual growth and development to which humans are capable of incarnating? Does the practice of the religious community seem to reduce both the human spirit and the human capacity to create or to provide energy, support and the oxygen required for hard questions, doubts and even confrontations?
Learning to say, "No!" to many of the proferred beliefs, practices, interpretations, applications and rulings that come from religious communities can be, and often is an important way to discern one's own path to wholeness and some kind of personal integrity, a sine qua non for any search for a relationhip with another human being, and certainly for any anticipated search for a relationship with God. Learning to say yes becomes much more difficult if one has never learned to say, "No!"
And in saying "No!" to some reductionism of either God or human potential, one is beginning to approach, even if indirectly, a "yes" to a larger and more alive and less restricted God as well as the human existence.
For example, saying "No!" emphatically to the oligarchy's control of the global economy, through the flow of meagre words in this digital format, and the increasingly desperate state of poverty verging on destitution, as one of its more significant results, is not merely a political act, but has become an act of spiritual courage....requiring the degree and purity of commitment that elevates that commitment to an expression of the sacred (insofar as humans are capable of expressing the sacred). We can no longer insouciantly take the gifts of clean air, water and land for granted, nor can we take for granted an equal access to health care and a full education for our children and grandchildren, as a consequence of the take-over of the levers of all aspects of the economy by those with money, and the legislators whose careers depend on the flow of supporting cash that protects the vested interests of those 1%. We are, or must become adherents, members, supporters and even contributors to the Occupy Movement, if we are to take back the backrooms of legislatures in all states, provinces and national capitals where the large decisions are taken to oppress the poor.
So much of the pursuit of God seems to follow a strict adherence to a code of belief, of behaviour and of religious practice, as if in strict "obedience" to that code, one is affirming one's acceptance of God's acceptance of that life. And that, it says here, is a form of classical conditioning that reduces God to a superior with military expectations of obedience, loyalty and deference that only the most insecure officer could either demand or expect...even in battle. And it also reduces the human capacity to explore, even to defy, to rebel and to obstruct... to evil and infamy and ultimately rejection from the religious community.
There is and must be a kind of palpable risk-taking to the formidable pursuit of a relationship with God, not the kind of risk-taking that one encounters through social rejection, but rather the kind that one encounters when stretching beyond one's comfort zone. Faith, if it does nothing else to and with the human being who bears it, lifts him or her beyond what would have been envisioned without that faith.
Life beyond the comfort zones of one's intellect, one's imagination, one's energy and one's picture of the "possible" is only possible through diving into the mysteries, not merely of one's own faith community but into the mysteries of the faith communities of others.
And only through consistent acceptance of the important mysteries, the clouds of unknowing that accompany any and all spiritual journeys can and will we open our hearts and minds and bodies to the potential with which God has endowed each of us.

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