August 20, 2017
Long before any kind of conscious approach to spirituality is even possible, we are being ‘conditioned’ by early experiences and education to look at the world in certain ways. Thus, as soon as the idea of ‘God’ is introduced to us, our reaction to this idea is already predictable. Those who are trained to see the not I as personal and well-intentioned will rejoice at the idea of an infinite benevolence. Those with a more guarded approach to the not I will come to the notion of God as if approaching an sea of hostility and negativity. This will be particularly true if the first mention of God is accompanied by the idea of commandments, risks of damnation and the obligation to deal with one more — especially an infinite — legislator-cop-prosecutor-judge-executioner. Those who have come along with a presumption that the not I is benevolent, will find it harder to deal with such notions as election, atonement, guilt, and judgment/condemnation. What is really interesting to the ‘dispassionate observer’ is that the ‘sunny’ human and the ‘gloomy’ human are each dealing with the same God. This dispassionate observation leads me to define spirituality as the project of living life against the horizon of an absolute not I.
Notably, this definition removes from the business of spirituality any possibility of self-centeredness or self-affirmation. To the extent that they continue to exist, they do so as a false horizon; to the extent that they have any validity, it is because they are echoes of the not I’s attitudes. (I think I will stop fooling around and start using the word ‘God’.)Another facet of this definition: at the same time as this confrontation with the absoluteness of God relativizes one’s own ego, it is the only guarantee of any worth to the ego. The very fact that the absolute does not obliterate the relative/contingent confers value on it — and confers it absolutely, not as the result of assertion or struggle between the less than absolute.
These are long thoughts and deep. They demand several re-readings and a lot of patience. I draw some comfort from the certainty that even if I were to write more words on this topic, they would not help to simplify.
On the other hand, I recognize a briefer version of spirituality’s core assertion in an old Latin phrase:Vocatum vel non vocatum numen adest. Whether we want him or not God is here. To learn to live with the given-ness of God — not to deny it or dodge it or
minimize it or whine about it or demand that it fit our earlier assumptions — this is spirituality on the ground of life.
Over the next few installments in this series, we will look at some of the ‘tools’ of spirituality, prayer, study, morality; and at some of the consequences of spirituality in our thinking about love, war, wealth, health, sex and other topics. Eventually, because this is me writing and the only God I know is the Father of Jesus Christ, we will have to look at Church, too. But we’ll save that for last.
Really, truly and contingently yours,