Exploring the interplay between ortho-doxy (right belief) and ortho-praxy (right action)...

...and encouraging a life where these intertwined thoughts and deeds simply happen... by default.

4 September 2006

the spiritual world

Do a 'google-search' on the word 'spiritual' and you'll find thousands and thousands of results. There seem to be as many views on 'spirituality' as there are types of music. All of the endless talking and writing about spirituality seems to stay close to a few types of questions...

-What is spirituality?
-How do I practise it?
-What does it 'look' like?
-Whose version of it works the best?
-Is there a 'best version' at all?
-Am I spiritual enough?

Well. Of course, I cannot possibly address every idea about spirituality. I haven't even heard every idea out there - and I seriously doubt anyone has. I can't even address every idea about spirituality that supposedly comes from the Christian community! The topic is so vast and it contains so many contradictory ideas, it can be quite exhausting even thinking about it for long!

What a tough deal. Huh? I firmly believe that ALL humans are spiritual beings, and I think most people would agree (but again, it depends on your definition of 'spiritual'). We all seem to have this deep sense of this thing we call 'sprirituality', but there are so many views out there (even within Christendom), that trying to find the best (true, correct, right?) one can wear us out quickly.

I want to encourage health in this area. For those seeking a better 'spiritual health' that are growing (or have grown) tired of the search, I want to encourage them to not give up. Our lives matter just that much.

Instead of delving into this bottom-less pit of ideas, I thought I would share a 'set of glasses' with you. I discovered them from reading a book by N.T. Wright called "Simply Christian" (which, by the way, many are seeing as the new "Mere Christianity"). These 'glasses' provide a framework with which to evaluate various ideas about spirituality and the world. My hope is that they will fuel your search with enthusiasm.

Right about now, some readers might be thinking, "But we have the Bible. No search is necessary. Just read what it says," to which I would respond, "OK. Then how can there be so many different - even contradictory - ideas about spirituality which all claim to be 'biblical'? While I believe that the Bible does have the answers, I'm nervous about such a simplistic pat-answer to this very important question.

The spheres of 'spirituality' and 'religion' are overlapping to say the least. Ask just about anyone what spirituality is, and they will eventually say something about tapping into a 'greater' reality, God, god, being, existence, mindset, Mindset or whatever. Using 3 'options', these 'glasses' provide a way of viewing the universe we live in and how 'god' fits into the picture.

Option 1
The first option is to see the entire universe as being - in it's very nature or essence - god. This is known as the pantheist view (pan = everything, theos = god). As N.T. Wright points out, the unavoidable difficulty with this view is that it is hard to account for the obvious evil that we see so clearly around us. If everything in itself is divine, and evil is so apparent, then the divine must contain evil, right? This tension is seen in such symbols as the yin-yang, used in Confucianism and Taoism. Unfortunately, we are left with a corrupt deity in this view.

Option 2
This option views god's realm as being detached and/or dis-interested with our realm. The idea is that because the divine must be pure, and our world is so obviously corrupted, stained and flawed, the divine simply cannot have anything to do with this existence. This god may have created the world, but now must have more important things to do, because our world certainly is being ignored. Perhaps this god may come down and do something scary every once and a while, but for the most part, is distracted by 'heavenly' business. Many versions of this view have been articulated, but perhaps the most well known person to do so was Plato. His view has become known as dualism, in which this world is merely a flawed copy of the ideal world. (Though we may not realise it, many so-called Christian ideas and Bible verse interpretations are tainted with this understanding of the universe.) The problem with this view is that while we admit that our world is most certainly flawed, we still behold it's beauty and majesty. We find mountains, hills, fields, flowers, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, sunsets, full-moons, and ocean waves to be deeply moving. Indeed, the Bible gives repeated testimony to the greatness of God's good creation.

Option 3
Option 1 cannot solve the question of evil, and leaves us with a deity that is in some way - at least in part - corrupt. Option 2 cannot explain the richness and glory of the universe, and leaves us confused about how to get the attention and favour of it's distant god. Continuing with N.T. Wrights 'glasses', our third option is to see two dimensions - Heaven and Earth - which 'overlap' and 'interlock' in various ways. The divine interacts with and relates to this world. This highlights the personal nature of this God. This God is somehow able to act in our very own space and time while at the same time remaining sovereign over it. This God is able to promise His people that He will 'dwell among them'.

Perhaps this is already sparking some thinking and re-thinking about some things. Perhaps you're wondering about some versions of spirituality. Which option do they fit most comfortably in?

Option 1 spirituality can seem to not have any real substance or meaning. If everything is god, then I don't need to 'tap into' anything, but instead I must try to make the idea work in my brain that the ground, the air, the water, my computer, my car and myself are all god. How does that help me live? I have no idea.

Option 2 spirituality can leave us confused about how to relate to the god. If this god is so distant, I probably have to use the right techniques, prayers, rituals or words to get its attention. If this existence is just a flawed copy of the idea existence, then it certainly can't matter very much, and what real difference do my actions make? If they matter at all, it must be so I can secure for myself a better after-life, right? Again, many 'Christian' ideas are polluted with such thinking.

Option 3 provides us with an existence that is dripping with spirituality. Not a spirituality of self-realisation that seeks to understand our god-ness (option 1), and not a confused grasp in the dark at a face-less 'something out there' which I can try to manipulate into working for me (option 2), but rather, an existence that: calls me into relationship with a Creator God who wants me to be His image, reveals the character of the Creator to guide me to a lifestyle of this image, and gives me a role to play in the Creator's unfolding story of redemption.

We don't have to live in a mediocre, bland fake-ness that suggests everything is fine and divine (option 1). We don't have to 'hold our breath' between 'spiritual moments' as if they only come every once in a while - perhaps miraculously (option 2). We instead are given the task of passing on the gift of Grace which we have received freely from the Creator, using not just the right collection of 'spiritual experiences' to do this, but rather, we realise that our whole life is a spiritual experience and journey in which we grow in relationship to the Spirit of the Creator, who 'dwells with us' and orients us to new life. A life rich with meaning, direction and purpose. A life that is part of the Creator's story. A life of strength in weakness. A life of weeping with those who weep. A life modeled after the life of Jesus.

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