Mature Spirituality

There are several people that come to mind when I think of people I would classify as spiritual people.    Perhaps these are obvious or not so obvious choices but I would place the following into this category:   The Dalai LamaThich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, Maya Angelou, Mother Teresa, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati (nee Joyce Green).

There are reasons for each of these people to be in my list of spiritual people.   The first and foremost reason is that I do not get a sense of judgment from these people when I hear them speak, or read their words, or observe their actions  in relation to other people’s sense of spirituality.  This is not to say that these individuals have not made judgments about what is true spirituality versus  a veneer of spirituality.  But I do not get a sense that these individuals have shown arrogance towards another’s spiritual path, in short placing their spiritual path above the rest as the true path. 

That for me is the defining marker for a mature spirituality.  To be so comfortable in our own spiritual (perhaps could be also be called faith) development that we are not threatened by another’s journey. It is perhaps the rare individual that starts their spiritual journey with such an awareness of equity between each other’s spirituality. 

So where does a person start in beginning a spirituality?  One begins with one self.   I remember being aware of being loved for who I was.  I was taught as a child that God loved each of us, totally, wholely for the wonderous unique creation we were.    But not everyone even begins there.  Someone else might become aware of being part of something greater than themselves… maybe as the True Blood character Amy states, being aware of being one with Gaia, being one organism with the earth.  This beginning awareness is also a bit self-centered, as it is an awareness that I am one with  Gaia, the universe, all that is. 

Sometimes when we first accept a new idea or new insight into our developing spirituality, we become a bit fanatic about our find.   We want to share it with everyone.  And we are a bit surprised when not everyone shares our enthusiasm for our discovery.  This can have a variety of responses.  We can re-examine our new insight and see if it indeed holds the truth we thought it did.  We can reject our new insight as a passing thought of fancy.  Or we can latch onto it with an arrogance of I know better than thou. 

If we move towards the arrogance side of things then there remains this tinge of doubt that perhaps we are not right that we fight against.  Our spirituality isn’t yet a  grounded spirituality.  Arrogance, I believe,  is an expression of being  threatened by another’s spirituality that is not understood.  If we are grounded in our spirituality then another’s path is not a threat to what we believe to be true. 

I remember coming home from an interfaith retreat for people who cared for people with HIV/AIDS and telling the religious leader of my christian charismatic community about the wisdom I heard from a Lakota Native American.  I was told right off the bat it was satanic.  The conversation was over before it even begun.   He was not open to even hear what I had learned that made so much sense to me. It was the beginning of my pulling away from this christian group.  I no longer understood why I should be afraid of  listening to another’s spiritual  journey.

Unitarian Universalists are just as prone to this fear of others as anyone else.  I hear congregants turn in disgust to another person’s interest in the supernatural, or new thought, or pagan, or orthodox christian views.  I hear my colleagues criticize derisively spiritualities that are heart based and not intellectually grounded.  I hear all sorts of joking about other’s spiritual experiences as if they alone had the true knowledge, the true insight into all Truth.   We have, I believe, placed our sometimes flawed reasoning abilities above all other tools for discerning.  Sometimes we need to listen with the heart and not the critical mind.  

One of our principles is the following:  A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.  It is listed right after this principle, Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. 

Now I understand that a free and responsible search is a scary proposition.  It essentially means that I am responsible for my spirituality, my faith development.  It means that I am not being told what to believe or not believe by some outside authority; be it minister, sacred text, guru,  pope or god(s).    I take this principle seriously.  When I converse with people on what they believe,  it is with an open ear and open heart.  Perhaps there is something in their experiences that will inform me in my journey. 

The “Acceptance of one another…” is another biggy for me. It means to me that I cannot judge your experiences as false.  I cannot joke about people reading  “Conversations with God” or “The Secret” or “The Tibetan Book of the Dead”  or “The Course in Miracles” or even “The King James Bible red letter edition”.  These books may do nothing for me.  But if I am being true to this principle then I accept each person’s  free and responsible search.  I listen deeply to your understanding of these books and how they inform your path.   We may dialog together about how these ideas inform your life as a spiritual being.  But I do not have the right to dismiss as nonsense what you found for your path . 

I believe it is these principles that attract so many people to Unitarian Universalism.  I also believe it is these same principles that are not being modeled in our congregations that turn these people away, sadly from our doors. 

We need to develop our spiritualities.  I think the people I mentioned above are role models of mature spirituality.  You may disagree with their teachings.  You may have heard of disputes involving these people.  They are human after all and suffer the same frailities as we all do.   But as spiritual teachers I believe they have a slice of the ultimate truth and they try to live that slice as best as they can. 

We need to strive to live our slice as best we can with reverence, with forebearance, with humility, with compassion, and with love for where we are in our journeys. These are the some of the markers of a mature spirituality.  Blessings,

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Published in: on June 12, 2009 at 1:32 pm  Comments Off on Mature Spirituality  
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