Thursday, August 1, 2013

Innovation in Spiritual Things

In addition to being involved in the world of religion and spirituality, I also have been fairly involved in the world of innovation.  Much of this grew out of collegial work that I have done with a friend of mine.  I will admit that I never thought too much about innovation before he and I began doing some thinking and, then, some writing on the topic of innovation.  A couple things occurred to me in the process.

In the first place I realized that it did not matter too much whether I used the word, innovation.  In fact, I have been fairly innovative much of my life.  When I learned the meaning of the language of innovation and looked at my experience, I recognized there was a match.  Part of my misunderstanding was thinking that innovation was solely a business word.  I knew businesses needed to be innovative---especially in today’s climate.  And since I was not in business, the language of innovation did not apply to me.  I was wrong.

Secondly, I realized that innovation can be learned.  While there certainly can be natural aptitude for innovative thinking, innovation is not simply a matter of your genetic make-up.  If you did not choose innovative parents, that does not matter.  With some reading, experience and networking, you can mightily enhance your innovative aptitude.  That has happened to me.

Having said this, let me give the basic definition of innovation that my friend and I have used.  As we see this definition, it should be clear much of it can apply to spiritual things---to our spiritual journey and life.  In the first place, innovation means doing a new thing.  This is probably the most common definition.  To understand this meaning, think of something like the airplane.  It is still part of the “movement industry.”  But it is very different than horses or bicycles. 

Secondly, innovation means doing an old thing a new way.  When you think about it, this makes a great deal of sense.  One can think of cars or smart phones to get a sense of what innovation means in these two cases.  I think much of what I have done in my teaching career has been innovative in this way.  I am still teaching as I did when I got out of graduate school.  But I certainly am doing it in very new ways.

Let’s now see how innovation applies to our spiritual journey and life.  The first definition of innovation---doing a new thing---seems easy to correlate to the spiritual journey.  Given my age, I can say that I have been practicing the spiritual discipline for quite a long time now.  And I can surely attest that I have done many new things over the course of my journey.  I think, for example, of contemplative prayer.

I can type those two words, contemplative prayer, and know exactly what I mean.  But if you asked me in high school or college or, probably, even in graduate school, I am sure I would not have known anything about it.  But gradually I have learned what contemplative prayer means and how I can practice it in my own prayer life.  Essentially for me, contemplative prayer means learning a form of prayer that does not necessarily need words.  It is more of an “attentive prayer,” the goal of which is to come into an awareness of living in God’s presence.  Contemplative prayer innovates my prayer life.

Somewhat related to this is the Quaker notion of “centering.”  I did grow up with this kind of language.  Much like learning English, when you grow up with centering language, you begin to figure out what it means and through imitation you learn how to do it.  Basically to “center” means to take some time to leave the outward, superficial trappings of life and “move to the center.”  It can be partly psychological and partly spiritual.  In Quaker spirituality my “center” will be that place where I encounter the Holy One.  To center means I come into awareness and presence of the Divine Being.

Over the years I have been innovative here in the sense that I have found new ways of engaging the centering process.  Some of the innovation comes from new knowledge I have gained from reading, etc.  Some of the innovation also comes from trial and error---learning through experience.

One of the main things I have learned as I apply innovation to my spiritual journey and life is the fact that innovation can be a fresh and exciting way to continue to bring growth and vibrancy to my spiritual journey.  There is no doubt that the spiritual journey can have peaks and valleys---can reach plateaus.  The journey can become stalled or stale.  Think about innovation as a potential re-starter and re-charger.

As with innovation in the business world, so I think with innovation in the spiritual world, having friends, mentors and, especially, community is an incredibly valuable asset.  Think about your own spiritual journey.  If you have no spiritual friends, no spiritual mentor or spiritual community, your chances of being innovative are quite low.  Maybe this is the place to start---to start thinking about innovation in spiritual things.

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