Often it is tempting to go with the novel and the faddish in spirituality. Spirituality came onto the national scene---particularly for non-Catholics---in the 1980s. Before that time, it would have been rare to hear churches or church leaders talking about “spirituality.” Instead, one typically heard words about religion, theology, etc. In college students took religion classes and theology classes. Maybe Roman Catholic seminaries talked about spirituality, but I never heard about it.
However, in the 70s and 80s things began to change. What led this change is less important than the impact of the change. No doubt, part of the change came about because of Vatican II which opened up Catholicism by lessening Protestant fears of Rome. There were other windows of change that were thrown open. The impact was enormous.
One feature of this that resonated with my own religious tradition, Quakerism, was a new focus on experience. Spirituality tends to start with human religious experience. This is different than beginning with doctrine or theology. Certainly, one can move from experience to doctrine. But it is harder to move in the other direction. For example, I might have an idea of who God is. I may “believe” in God. But that doesn’t mean I have ever experienced God. I may have no first-hand knowledge of God. To put it bluntly, I may “know about” God without “knowing” God.
Spirituality begins with “knowing” God. Spirituality developed as a way to talk about how we help others “meet” or “encounter” God. It might deal with something like prayer before dealing with theology. In fact, things like spiritual disciplines become very important in the concern with spirituality.
I like the way Roger Walsh puts this in his book, Essential Spirituality. This book deals with what I like to call spiritual fundamentals. Walsh says, “The ultimate aim of spiritual practices is awakening, that is, to know our true Self and our relationship to the sacred.” Spiritual practices are about the fundamentals of the religious life. They should be the beginning point rather than ideas about God or Jesus or whatever. I also like that Walsh tells us that the ultimate aim of these practices is awakening.
Why is awakening important? I would say not only is it important; it is crucial. Let’s look at the phenomenon of awakening. What does it presuppose? Awakening presupposes that we have been asleep, unconscious or otherwise out of it. Awakening is a “coming to.” Awakening is the process of coming out of the night of sleep into the dawn of a new spiritual day. Awakening enables me to become aware and, even, begin to pay attention to the potential spiritual journey that I am choosing.
As Walsh indicates, awakening enables us to come to know our true Self. This is a mighty concept about which books are written. Obviously the true Self stands in contrast to the false self. The illusion of the false self is that it exists when, in fact, it does not. The false self is a construct of our ego and has us pretending to be someone other than who we really are.
The spiritual journey is a journey away from the false self toward the true Self. Why is one spelled with a capital “S” and the other with a small “s?” It is one way to indicate only the true self is also an awakening into the realization that our true self is also a participant in the Divine Self. This participation transforms the self into the true Self. We discover that we are no longer our own. We realize and embrace the fact that finally we really are God’s. We are God’s children---God’s beloved children.
The spiritual journey is the journey to knowing our relationship with the sacred. This journey does nothing except to make us saints. A saint is one who is in conversation with the sacred and fully engaged in the sanctification process. That last phrase, sanctification process, sounds like a page out of some holy-roller tradition. For a long time, I did not like the language of sanctification. In some sense, I feared it. But I was still asleep to its meaning and potential for my own life.
Now I see and accept that the spiritual journey is by definition a sanctifying journal. I figure we are either on the path of becoming saints or sinners. There is no middle ground. Only those of us stuck in our false self assume there is a middle ground---the choice not to become a saint, but certainly convinced that one is not a sinner.
I want to awaken. I want to take on the spiritual fundamentals so that I can begin to walk the way of sanctification and become a saint. I don’t think this will necessarily make me perfect. It will enable me to become a child of God---one of the beloved. I can imagine no greater treasure than this. But you can’t bank on it.