What kind of spirituality can heal and transform our lives, and our world, as we enter the 21st century?
I offer this definition as a starting point: spirituality is an encounter with the depth dimension of life, however it is named.
It is about living mindfully, creatively, compassionately in the midst of mystery.
It is about creating a context of meaning within which we live. It is about grounds for hope.
Spirituality and Religion
People in Canadian surveys today often say “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious” I would answer differently, remembering that the word “religion” means, at its root, “to bind together again.” At its best, religion is about transformation in community – about making whole – about reconnecting with our ground of meaning and relationship.
The power of religious community has often been abused, but when it is healthy, it supports our individual spirituality. It provides a context for telling our stories, for exploring our experience, and for testing out the meaning we have found in dialogue with others, past and present. It challenges us to incarnate our values in the way we live our lives.
In a time in history when commonly held values, such as consumerism, seem more than a little mad, many of us need the support of a community in order to find the courage to challenge the life-denying values promulgated around us.
Mystery and Holiness
A sturdy and life-affirming spirituality, I believe, begins with the recognition of the mystery and holiness within every person. It is tempered by a healthy humility, for our nature encompasses both mystery and finitude. Being finite, none of us knows with certainty the nature of the Holy. But we can live in relationship to it, mindful of the mystery present in each moment.
An early teacher in my own tradition, over four hundred years ago, urged us “not to think alike, but to love alike.”
In this diverse country in which we live, I believe a life-affirming spirituality must challenge us to love across the gaps which divide us, whether they are based upon theology or ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or age. In so doing, it also gifts us — with richness and wisdom and creative possibility.
Although our knowledge is limited, a healthy spirituality encourages us to take responsibility for our own lives. There are resources available in the form of recorded wisdom from human journeys past. The scriptures and traditions of all faiths deserve respect.
However, if one views them as inspirational rather than “authoritative,” there is no need for competitive or exclusive truth claims. It is up to us to determine what part of that wisdom resonates for us in our time, and what inspires each of us on our own journeys towards transformation.
A holistic spirituality relies upon many ways of knowing. It does not go against reason, but it may go beyond it. I believe “religious authority” ultimately rests in the living of our individual lives, and it cannot be abdicated.
But it can, and should, be tested within communities of people we trust– people who are committed to listening to one another without the intent to convert. There we discover deeper wisdom through our dialogue with people who see the world differently than ourselves. Sometimes this is not comfortable! But it is rich and interesting and often transforming.
A nourishing spirituality must address mind and body, heart and soul. Each of us emphasizes different elements of the mix, but we cannot ignore any of them. Whatever one’s personality style, a holistic spirituality needs elements of philosophy (mind), ritual (body), service (will), devotion and community (heart), and creativity and authenticity (soul). Within my own religious tradition, we challenge one another to live in the questions, and to acknowledge the fundamental ambiguity of our reality.
Affirming Spirituality within Diversity
Mystics and skeptics alike, we are all to a degree agnostics, because we acknowledge with some humility that we could be wrong. We may not be sure what “God” is doing. But we are clear about what we are called to do — to engage compassionately with our world until, as the Buddhists would put it, “all sentient beings are free from suffering.”
Yes, in this complex and diverse society in which we live, a life-affirming spirituality is one which teaches us to love across the gaps which divide us. For only such an open and rich spirituality can help us to shape meaning large enough to embrace the context of our lives. “Not to think alike, but to love alike” — ultimately our hope – the hope of our world — is not in private, isolated pursuit of the Holy on the mountaintop, but finding spirit and meaning in the midst of our lives as we live them.