Perhaps it is time to retire the word “spirituality.” Coming from a person who has a Masters degree in Spirituality, this may seem like a strange suggestion. The reason that I make this suggestion (with tongue only half in cheek), is that the word is misunderstood by so many people that it has become almost meaningless. It is time to start over again and put new wine into new wine skins.
The most common misunderstanding that I have run into is the belief that spirituality implies interest only in “higher realms” and a disdain for things of the earth.
When people hear that one is interested in spirituality, they almost step back in awe. You must be some sort of privileged being who knows something that they do not. You are considered “beyond” being interested in the mundane things of planet earth. You live on a different frequency, tuned into ethereal realms. What happens during our earthly sojourn is inconsequential to you. You have more important things to do, like talk to angels and disincarnate spirits.
Such an attitude represents, of course, the worst type of bogus spirituality. Jesus and all of the other enlightened beings who have ever lived, have made it crystal clear that an authentic spirituality invariably leads to a life of loving service, right here, right now.
In other words, what happens here on earth is not just some way of biding our time until eternity. Earthly happenings are important. Life matters. Getting involved in the real world is the hallmark of a truly enlightened being.
Examples of this point abound in all of the world’s sacred writings. For example, Jesus told his disciples that the world will know that we belong to Him if we wash one another’s feet. He said nothing of record about the need to bilocate, levitate, or be slain in the Spirit.
The Chinese philosopher Chuang-Tze tells the story of the woodchopper. The woodchopper says that before he saw the light, he used to chop wood. Then he came to the light and became a person of prayer. Then, he saw even more light, so now he chops wood again.
The Hindus believe that it is possible to become so enlightened that one will no longer have the need to reincarnate. However, they also believe that the highest calling for an enlightened person is to become a “boddishatva” and voluntarily return to the world over and over again until the very last person on earth has finally awakened.
There is no question about it. Authentic spirituality does not entail an escape from the world. We are not angels. We are human beings. Our task is not so much to transcend as to incarnate.
Practically speaking, this means that on our spiritual journeys we will sometimes become embroiled in political controversy, as Pope Francis has done in writing his encyclical on the environment. Politics may be the art of the possible, but so is spirituality. How do we do this gracefully and with integrity? There are no easy answers to this, but the solution is never to hide in fear.
Some people would rather avoid all this. They would like to come to their place of worship and never be challenged or upset They seek a spiritual spa rather than a place of transformation.
Might I respectfully suggest that these folks look into becoming Gnostics or Manicheans or one of a myriad of other world denying movements that have popped up over the centuries. That way they can delve exclusively into lofty esoteric theories to their hearts content. But for those who are following an authentic spiritual path, no such option is possible. Real spiritual growth demands that we be real people in the real world.
Next posting: Fear of Excellence
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