Sometimes it seems those of us who strive to live some kind of spiritual life, try too hard. Saying such does not mean I believe the spiritual journey is so demanding that we need to see it as a herculean effort that only strong folks can manage to do. Actually, I think the journey may be fairly simple. Theology can become quite complex, but the spiritual walk itself is relatively simple. I think that is probably true in all the major religious traditions. I am convinced it is for Christianity. I suspect it is also true for my Jewish friends, my Buddhist colleagues, etc.
There are some basic components to the journey. Faith is surely a beginning point. Somehow we need enough trust to begin the walk. There has to be some commitment to develop along the way or we would not continue. Commitment is formed through a process of discipline. Surely any journey that lasts for some time is going to require a modicum of discipline. For anyone who played sports or music, this is no surprise. Discipline is always a factor of a journey or a practice.
Faith, commitment and discipline may be the only basic components needed. Surely, there are other things that can be added that make the spiritual journey a worthwhile experience. Among some of these “add ons,” I would mention spiritual support. I am tempted to make it the fourth basic component, but conceivably some folks can manage their journey as a solo journey---needing nothing from anyone else. I do not count myself among those. I always need spiritual support along my way.
“Your religion is what you do with your solitude,” is a famous line from twentieth century William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury. I think I understand this line from Temple and can appreciate what he is trying to address, but I do think it has a dangerous side. The dangerous side implicitly suggests that you do religion alone. In effect, it might suggest that the community dimension is not necessary. And for many, that comes to mean the community element is not even helpful.
I wonder if this sentiment is not the driving force behind the popular, “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” perspective so many folks today have? Certainly, a huge group of students I see every day share the sentiment of this line. Do they think there is any need for spiritual support? Most of them would say “No,” if my guess were correct. If I think religion is what I do when I am alone or living solo, then it probably never occurs to me that spiritual support might actually be an asset.
Perhaps it is because I cannot imagine living spiritually by going it alone. Spiritual support is necessary for me and I welcome it at every turn. Let me offer a few details that narrate why spiritual support is a huge boost to the one on a spiritual journey.
The first thing I recognize is so much support has come my way from people who have already walked the walk I am treading---they already have “seen that, done that.” While they may not be giving me advice, they can offer understanding and, perhaps, some hints. It is similar to my experience with cancer. Obviously, I was not the first human being to cope with that malady. Others had done chemotherapy. They had some understanding and could meet me where I had need. So it is with veterans of the spiritual journey---“been there, done that.”
Most journeys will lead to places where we get tired, maybe even sick, and occasionally we might be tempted to chuck it all. We dearly deserve spiritual support in these kinds of places. I know that if I am tired, I do much better when I am with friends. They can help bear my load. Their words of support are energizing. I can persevere when otherwise I might just flame out! When I am sick of the spiritual walk, I find excuses to quit or, at least, go back. I always laugh at this place, because I am just like the people of Israel who left the bondage of Egypt only to be led into the wilderness. At some point, they complained about Moses and only wanted to go back to bondage!
I am also very aware there will be some small spiritual victories along the way. They may be times of some spiritual giddiness or near ecstasy. These times are not fun when we are stuck by ourselves---with our only solace being the solitude we have chosen. If there is fun, I want a party! A party is more than one person---even if it is I! I want others to be with me, to applaud what went well and to encourage me even further on my journey. Spiritual community is necessary for this dimension.
In my experience, spiritual support comes mostly in very small doses. It can be a word of greeting or a wink of encouragement. Simply to have someone solicitous for my well-being is huge. To have someone or a group care about you is wonderful. And I also find being a supporter of others on their journey is also healthy for myself. To be for someone else, to care for their well-being and extend myself on their behalf keeps me grounded and unselfish.
I can’t imagine going it alone. I firmly believe we were all created by love in order to love. To love and to be loved requires others. Going it alone makes no spiritual sense to me. Spiritual support makes it all possible for me.