Spirituality and Serenity

Occasionally, I run into a quotation that I want to embrace, ponder, and keep in mind.  I know there are some of my favorite authors who often provide just such a quotation.  They are dependable friends, if you want to put it that way.  Many of them I have never met, but I feel like I know them.  And I am always quite happy to invite someone else into that circle of people who offer memorable things for my life.

One such author is Rollo May.  I feel like I have known Rollo May for decades.  I probably first bumped into his writings in the 1960s.  I really don’t know how many books he has written.  I have encountered him in articles, in interviews, and other venues.  I have never met him.  Some day, maybe, in this life or the next phase of life---whatever that is---we will become friends.

Some twenty years or more ago, I encountered May’s book on beauty.  I liked the title: My Quest for Beauty.  Part of what attracts me to this work of May’s is the fact that I really don’t know much about beauty.  I am not quite sure why that is.  I could blame it on my farm upbringing.  Or maybe it is simply the culture in which I grew up.  I don’t even recall people in my family using the language of “beauty.”  Of course, I heard people talk about a physically stunning person as “beautiful.”  But even then, it would be more likely to hear someone say that person was “pretty” or something like that. 

When I encountered May’s book, I knew he was talking about beauty at a whole different level.  Rather than physical looks, May was diving into the philosophical, aesthetic, and sometimes, religious levels of beauty.  I began to read with curiosity and with joy.  The sentences rolled by my eyes and I began to feel like I was encountering beauty for the first time.  I was learning.  Often, I felt challenged.  But I read on.

I love it when I come to a sentence that stops me in my tracks.  For example, I felt stopped when I read the following sentence.  “There is also a cultural reason why we do not talk much about beauty.  Our culture worships change.  As Don Michael puts it, we become bored instead of serene…”  I am sure I was grabbed, in part, because May was giving me a reason why I felt so culturally out of it when I thought about beauty.  It was nice to have a reason.  I thought perhaps it was just I!

Even in the 1980s, when the book was published, May could say that our culture worships change.  How much more so now!  When we think about how quickly our technology changes, we sense even more the pace of life in our worlds.  I never thought about a culture worshipping change, but I can understand it.  I think about my pre-computer days.  Having a typewriter was a big deal.  And then came the electronic typewriter.  And probably about the time May was writing his book, the first computers entered my life.
I certainly am not the first adopter into the technological evolution, but I do adopt.  Then came the internet.  And now if the internet is “too slow,” I complain bitterly!  Where is beauty in all this?  I am not concerned with beauty.  I want speed, efficiency, etc.  And that is precisely where May’s book and his focus on beauty is so compelling, even though it is arresting.

May comes to his punch line with his quotation of Don Michael.  With our cultural worship of change, we become bored instead of serene.  That is a powerful statement for me.  How many times I hear students and others complain of being bored!  By this, they usually mean, “nothing is happening,” or the like.  Seldom is this seen as a spiritual issue.  But I actually believe boredom is often a spiritual issue.  In the spiritual literature of early monks, boredom was know by a technical term, acedia.  This could be translated as apathy or lethargy, but boredom is as good a translation as any.  So what’s the antidote?

Serenity.  I think serenity is a beautiful spiritual word.  But it is more than a word.  In fact, it is more than an idea or concept.  Serenity is an experience.  It is closely related to joy.  It is akin to the feeling of peace and contentment.  As a spiritual experience, serenity suggests to me an at-one-ment with the world, with others, and with God.  In a word it is a “unity” with self, others, and the Holy One.

Having put it this way, one gets a profound sense of how beautiful this is---beauty not in the physical sense, but in a deeper spiritual sense.  Serenity is an acceptance of things as they are.  It is this contentment with who one is and how one is with the Divine One.  Instead of boredom, serenity gives rise to gratitude. 

Although I still feel like a beginner, I would like to cultivate beauty in my life and the world around me.  I would be open to the serenity that likely comes from spiritual beauty.  And I want to be appropriately grateful for the Divine gift of spirituality and serenity.

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