Monday, April 26, 2010

The "S" Word

On Saturday I was facilitating a conversation at the Spring Annual Meeting of the Ballou Channning District of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  We were discussing the future of worship, and someone brought up the "s" word.  She said that she'd already heard several people use it, talking about the importance of
"spiritual connection" and "spirituality."  She admitted that she really wasn't certain what these people were talking about.

A few people tried their best to speak to her question, yet I'd have to say that their answers didn't really seem to me to provide any kind of fundamental answer.  They provided some important details, perhaps, gave some nice color and shading, but didn't get to the heart of the matter.

I finally stepped in and asked if I could give it a try.  I noted that when Henry David Thoreau began his famous experiment at Walden Pond he said that he'd gone to "live deliberately" so as not to live "what is not life" and "when the time comes to die discover [he] had not lived."  I said that I took this to mean that he wanted to live something that was life and this, I said, is what spirituality is all about.

All the religions we humans have ever developed to respond to this business of being alive and having to die seem to agree that most of the time most of us life "that is not life."  We're too distracted by worries, or fears, or regrets, or the ups and downs of pop culture, or whatever it is that keeps us from being really present.  Sometimes it's said that we're asleep, or dead, or deluded, or caught in the web of sin, or alienated, or unaware, or distracted, or detached, but I believe that in essence all of these are really saying that we're busy living what is not life instead of what is life.  When all of the cultural particularities, the loaded languge and images are stripped away, that's what spirituality is all about.

And what about those other terms "spiritual practice" and "spiritual discipline"?  Didn't Thoreau say that he wanted to "live deliberately?"  It takes some work to wake up, to change the way we see things to this new perspective.  I don't think there's anything more to it -- at its essence -- than that.

In Gassho,

RevWik Print this post


David said...

(Sorry for the delayed comment. Guess who's catching up on his RSS reading today?) ;-)

I hardly ever like to fall into the Greek sarcos/psuche duality, but to me that metaphor provides some really good insights into the word "spiritual." We modern thinkers (perhaps? especially atheists and liberal religious folk?) often allow ourselves to behave as though the hard sciences are "it"--if we can't measure it in a beaker or with a ruler or on a scale, it can't be real.

The spiritual life, to me, is that part of life that exists--thrives--in paradox. "Spiritual" experiences can't be measured, but they can't be denied. They leave no evidence, but change us forever. In their wake we feel infinitesimally humbled, and triumphantly privileged.

"Live deliberately?" I love that phrase. We don't live "purposefully"--meaning, with the purposeful goal of creating spiritual experiences. Instead, we "deliberate" (verb) each moment of our lives--allow it to "weigh down the scale" (the literal meaning of "deliberate") and recognize its importance.

I can't "create" a spiritual experience--but I can train myself to be more open to them. (That, I think, is why we church folk have jobs.)

Apparently the coffee just kicked in. I'll stop rambling now. :-)

Thanks for sharing, Erik!

RevWik said...

Thanks, David. I'd never heard the etymology of "deliberate," and it really gives a nice depth to that phrase. It also gives a nice link between the word "spirituality" (as I'm using it here) and the word "worship" which, as is often noted, comes from an Old English word meaning "to ascribe worth to." So when we live a spiritual life, living deliberately and "weighing down the scale" and adding meaning, it makes each act an act of worship. Sounds about right.