I would like to take some time to explore the idea of a “personal spirituality.”
In order to achieve this end I feel it necessary to first cover the principals of the spiritual world at large. I believe this discussion is worthwhile because I believe it impossible for someone with a “personal” spirituality to have a meaningful spirituality.
The nature of the spiritual world can be mysterious.
We often forget, however, that many of the properties of the physical world still apply to the spiritual. As science is keen to inform us, just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean that it is not constant! Oxygen and the other gaseous particles that make up our atmosphere are the invisible, but testable materials that sustain every moment of our living.
The spiritual is neither irrelevant nor of secondary importance as it might seem. It is true that I cannot be hit by a spiritual bus or clobbered by a spiritual gang, and so the immediacy of the spiritual can be lost, but none the less it is very real, and very important.
Some theologians and philosophers have discussed in great detail the idea that the spiritual gives rise to all matter: in effect, everything contained in the universe. They explain that the spiritual gives birth, it is procreative, and not the other way around. In this sense, air is only responsible for sustaining the life we have, but without the spiritual we would not even exist!
The debate over proving the spiritual life with science is a foolish errand because it will never bear fruit. It can only be said that those who believe in the spiritual often have an incredible amount of certainty, despite having little to no shareable evidence outside of personal stories and experiences.
Where could such overwhelming certainty come from if not from personal experience?
If we are to come to terms with the existence of the spiritual then we must consider the nature of it, as a scientist considers the nature of the universe.
One of man’s most visceral connections with the spiritual is his morality, or sense of right and wrong.
I have chosen this point specifically because even the person who rejects both God and the spiritual world knows the longing of the conscience for justice, for example.
Because of the spiritual, we have supernatural good and evil: the cosmic struggle between these two forces is a stark reality.
The second very important aspect of morality is that it refers to our relationships: between ourselves, and most importantly with God.
Here in lies the efficacy and beauty of spirituality: it always involves sharing, community, and connectedness. Never is spirituality simply a personal experience (in the finite sense), but always one of mutual experience, a deepening of relationship.
We must choose the side to which we belong: good or evil. To ignore the clash altogether is, arguably, to choose the side of evil. With that said, I believe it is safe to say that the majority of people defend goodness whether consciously or not.
It is now that we enter the realm of Spiritual Warfare.
These are the raging battles of the soul, the perilous journey of a person’s will, their ability to choose.
There is a burgeoning spiritual movement of people who say things like, “I don’t follow any religion or teaching, I just have a personal spirituality.” In essence, this is the equivalent of a single person going out as a “personal army” against the entire military strength of Russia in the height of the cold war. Any given soldier is a sitting duck without the structure and discipline of an army. As individuals we are useless against an organized enemy.
Wise military leaders sow seeds of disunity amongst their opponents army; they attempt to set them against one another. An army that is divided is an ineffective army. In exactly the same way, a hundred thousand Spiritual Individualists will do less good in the world than a hundred united souls.
There simply is no such thing as a meaningful “personal spirituality” precisely because it is just one person on their own. They remove the most essential element of spirituality: relationship.
If we seek to create spirituality in our own image we will inevitably discover a distorted image of ourselves through this search. It is to go in a giant and endless loop always leaving and ending at the same place.
To find the spirituality which brings peace, beauty, joy, we must work together. We must discuss, talk, argue, embrace, and love.
Religious dogma is not oppressive so long as it is founded in truth. In fact, it is the exact opposite. In the same way that a manual for a band-saw both protects the user and ensures the best possible result from the work, so religious doctrine seeks to ensure the safety of the believer as well as guide them into the highest possible union, the highest possible joy.
People today want to simply choose the parts of the manual that seem the best to follow, and to omit the parts that are uncomfortable or unworthy in their eyes. They say, to heck with safety goggles, those are uncomfortable and sweaty. Not realising that having a wood splinter in your eye is far worse than any discomfort caused by the safety gear.
And so it is with our individualist spiritualists.
They pick and choose what sounds good, or feels comfortable, instead of seeking the truth of why these rules or doctrines exist. In the end, they undermine themselves, and the community as a whole.
Now, it can be argued, quite rightly, that in the realm of the spiritual there are several manuals for the same machine and that these manuals are conflicting.
All the more reason to read them and to discern what they say!
This discernment must never come from a place of taste or preference though, but from an in depth search into whether or not they contain truth.
We do have an ace up our sleeves, however.
God is here to help, to listen, and to answer.
In that case, what harm could it possibly do to speak internally to no one?
If there is anything I can say with certainty, it is that if you ask, and you listen to the response, He will answer.
Often times His answer comes in an unexpected way, but it always comes.
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!”
— Carl Sagan, Astronomer
An interesting statement from a scientist and I think he was either a soft atheist or an agnostic.
If individualism and tribablism married and had a baby, it might be called inter-dependent. I agree Adam…we are not meant to go it alone.
There are some quantum physicist out there who say that matter stems from consciousness and they can theoretically prove it. Perhaps science and religion need to marry and have a baby too.
Amrit Goswami is once such quantum physicist.