Interview with Planet Shifter Magazine & Blog – Myth and Today’s Religious Trends

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By Gregory

I was honored to be interviewed by one of the Pacific Northwest’s most influential ecospirituality blogs and magazine – Plant Shifter.

Read the interview here – http://www.planetshifter.com/node/2263

As always, I welcome your comments, thoughts, ideas, and disagreements.

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Interconnected – Interdependent

by Gregory

One of the most overlooked spiritual insights is that of our interconnectedness and interdependence with all other living beings and planet. This is not merely an ecological insight, it’s a moral, and ontological insight. It’s an insight reinforced in Genesis and emphasized throughout scripture. It’s an insight that needs to play a greater role in our theology.

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The Core of Nature-based Spirituality

By Gregory

Emerging & Vague

Many people in mainstream spiritual traditions haven’t noticed the ongoing emergence of a conglomerate spiritual movement that goes by many names and weaves together varied religious strands. Some call it Paganism, Neopaganism, Wicca, Witchcraft, Earth-based Spirituality, Indigenous spirituality, ecospirituality, or nature-based spirituality. And those engaged in this emerging movement include humanists, atheists, polytheists, monotheists, and positions in between.

Since the 1970s, groups independent of one another have sprung up around the world, each emphasizing themes of ecology, social justice, a return to nature, simplicity, and tuning into the seasons and cycles of the earth.

British figures such as Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols helped spearhead forms of this spiritual movement through the 1960s and 1970s. Today, there are established and growing groups of Druids, Pagans, and a host of other related religious expressions emerging around the world.

The trappings, expressions, thinking, and practices of many of these are often wild and unrooted. Sadly, the movement as a whole suffers from a lack of solid theological and philosophical thinking. Bookstores contain shelves full of hastily published works on crystals, witches, moon spirituality, and a host of other fluff. Many people when they hear the word Pagan immediately think of the kindly, but somewhat scattered Wiccan lady interviewed on local TV around Halloween.

If one can get beyond the polytheism, the spells, the robes and silly hats, there is a serious and worthwhile thrust to what I prefer to call nature-based spirituality. There is a solid core that unites these varied spiritual strands. And this core finds commonality with theological concerns of more mainstream traditions. In my opinion, most of the emerging Pagan groups engage a spirituality that is rooted in three fundamental convictions:

Emergence-Interconnectedness

Cosmological evolution has wrought stars and planets from the primal singularity. Biological evolution has wrought life from carbon-based organic matter. All being is evolving and interconnected – everything is in motion, vibration, swirling with energy.

Evolution is an ongoing process, reality is in continual flux, nothing is static, and everything is in motion, vibration, swirling with energy – everything standing in relation to everything else in an interconnected, unified system. Nothing stands in total isolation from everything else, and any one thing stands in relation to everything. We must recognize and affirm our responsibilities to one another and to our ecosystem of which we are an integral part – for our actions

Finding the Sacred in Nature

Nature is our spiritual context and touchstone and our connection to it is vital for our well-being and thriving. Humanity is inherently part of nature, we do not stand above or outside the ecosystem; we are fully ingrained within it. Our wholeness depends on being in harmony with our own human nature and the environment.

Exploring the cycles of life and death, dark and light, planting, sowing, harvesting, and by attuning ourselves to the rhythms of earth, sun, and moon, we learn about ourselves and about Divine energies. Celebrating the seasons can reconnect us to our place in the ecosystem and be a powerful tool for personal and spiritual transformation.

Nature, Human Dignity, & Human Wholeness

Human beings emerge from nature, our life supported and enmeshed in the ecosystem, and at the end of our life, we (or, perhaps, at least our physical aspects) return to nature. Our natural status does not erase the truth that each of us as persons possesses an ontological value, an inherent dignity, and a sense of worth that is grounded in our very being and is not merited or earned.

We are children of the Earth, emerging from the primal waters. We’ve evolved into inherently social animals – we cannot exist without community; we engender culture with our very being. We bear mutual responsibility to one another. The human family can only truly flourish when all people flourish; what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters we do to ourselves. We are called to stand in solidarity with all people of good will and create a culture that affirms life and human dignity.

Empathy is the foundational capacity for all other interpersonal virtues – it is the capacity of intersubjectivity – allowing us to enter into the joy, pain, suffering, or toil of other’s lives, thus permitting responses of love and justice – the proper responses to human dignity.

Morality is not imposed on humanity or revealed by a deity or religious authority, rather it is an integral part of our natural identity. Our moral responsibilities and rights arise from our nature (a reasoned teleological reflection on such) and our relationship to others. This vision offers a formal framework within which to conduct moral reasoning. Our motivation for virtue is a matter of our own integrity, following the logic of love and our own nature.

Our wholeness depends on this insight – to be sane is to be naturally integrated. This means being in touch with the whole, which means we must engage in reciprocal relationships with the natural world. Human fulfillment is found in adherence to values that affirm life and ongoing self-actualization. It requires the alignment with nature and its powers.

The above is merely an attempt to elaborate a set of foundational philosophical ideas. I’d enjoy hearing from those who practice or are engaged in some form of Paganism – how do you understand your own spiritual path?

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What is Nature-Based Spirituality? You might be surprised by the answer.

By Gregory

I have a friend who lives in Columbus, Ohio. She’s been practicing a form of Neopaganism for the past several years – her particular tradition is rooted in Greek Polytheism. She, and her, group of friends worship the Ancient Greek gods, discuss Greek culture, say their prayers in Greek, and so on.

A couple of weeks ago, she and I emailed back and forth one evening. In one of her emails, she said “Gregory, when will you finally leave Judaism and embrace a nature-based spiritual path?” My response was that I was beginning to see Judaism as my nature-based spiritual path.

Allow me to explain.

My friend claims that her Greek spirituality is nature-based. She celebrates holidays that revolve around agricultural and seasonal cycles, she is concerned about ecology, believes we must develop more “organic” forms of morality, reads her myths in light of evolution, communes with her deities in nature, and so on.

So do I.

Let’s examine this a little more closely. My friend has done what many nature-based Neopagans have done.

She has embraced a particular culture and its understanding of Divinity, its sacred texts, its calendar and holidays, and it’s way of understanding the world.

As a Jew, so have I.

She has learned Greek, studied Greek texts, adopted aspects of Greek culture, even enjoying Greek cuisine.

As a Jew, so have I – learning enough Hebrew to get by, reading Jewish theology, learning about Jewish culture, and even eating Jewish cuisine (and Kosher) now and then.

She celebrates the Greek Holidays, which are nature-based.

As do I – celebrating the Jewish holidays, which have strong nature-based connections and seasonal associations. Tu BishVat is the New Year of the Trees. Sukkot is the Harvest Festival. Hanukkah’s origins are likely connected to the Winter Solstice. And so on.

In our email exchange, we went back and forth like this for a while. For some reason, she refused to agree that Judaism could be a nature-based spiritual path.

I explained further – the Jewish calendar is lunar, with many major holidays falling on the Full or New moon. Jewish scriptures are full of epiphanies in nature – burning bushes, smoking mountains, thunder, rain, gentle voices on the breeze, and so on.

I told her that Shabbat begins at sunset on Friday, that there are several prayers celebrating God who brings on the evening.

Jews create their sacred space by lighting candles, blessing wine, and forming a prayer circle with at least ten Jews.

I reminded her of the ecological concerns that undergird keeping Kosher. That there are many Mitzvoth that involve nature, ecology, and doing right by nature and animals.

Finally, I emailed her concerning Judaism’s non-dogmatic nature, its non-centralized theology and authority structures, and in its majority Liberal forms, its equal treatment of women and full acceptance of LBGT people.

She gave one final objection, saying that her Greek Paganism respected nature. I explained that my Judaism did as well, stressing our moral and practical responsibilities to the environment.

I further explained that I was exploring other ways to integrate nature-based spirituality into my Jewish spirituality.

I think she’s beginning to get the idea. And so am I.

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Awakenings – Applying Simplicity with Ruthlessness

by Gregory

There have been a few times in the past 25 years where I’ve stopped, honestly assessed my life, and found that I wasn’t living the life that I actually wanted to live – that I was living according to other’s expectations and standards, that I had allowed myself to get trapped in other’s thinking, and that my passivity in light of circumstances had narrowed my world.

In each of these cases, mustering the courage to live a simple and honest life allowed me to turn around and reestablish priorities according to my own vision, desires, and dreams. In these moments, simplicity has been a guiding light and has enabled me live a better, more authentic life.

Simplicity is not just about decluttering and shopping less. Nor is simplicity about doing without or continually sacrificing things for the sake of a sterile Spartan existence.

Simplicity is a form of wisdom that compels us to live a full and rich life by helping us recognizing what’s essential and what isn’t. Part of this wisdom is recognizing one’s limits and the value of scarce resources.

Most of us live lives of abundant blessings – excessive material resources, a multiplicity of social options, many friends, groups, and organizations to engage, and no shortage of entertainment options. Add in life’s necessary chores, appointments, and responsibilities and one realizes how people can become quickly overwhelmed.

Simplicity asks to consider if what is consuming our time, energy, money, talents, and attention is actually necessary, fulfilling, and valuable.

It’s so easy to think something is vital or important when it really is not. Many of us take on commitments and do things that are actually detracting from our happiness and well-being. They seem important at the moment, but upon closer examination are really not.

If you’ve decided, for example, that your spouse and children, career, and closest friends are your highest priorities, then you need to pause frequently and ask yourself if joining that organization, serving on that committee, accepting that lunch invite, engaging that cause – will help you and others lead a happy and meaningful life, or whether these things are simply energy and time draining distractions masquerading as valuable and necessary commitments.

For simplicity to work, it must be ruthlessly applied, not just once, but all the time.

Some think that living in such a manner robs life of joy and spontaneity, but the truth is the opposite – living a ruthlessly simple life leaves open spaces for simple pleasures, genuine leisure, joyful activity, engaging with others, and other quality pursuits. It even leaves open spaces for us just to stop and enjoy the art of doing nothing.

Perhaps the most powerful quote on simplicity is from the late Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.

Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice – have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Life is, indeed, short. In fact, it’s too short to do things you don’t need to do, and don’t really want to do.

This realization helps muster the courage and resolve to cut away that which isn’t necessary – leaving room for us to focus on what really matters and to engage it more slowly, thoughtfully, and even joyfully.

Simplicity applies to spirituality as well – religion involves commitments – it asks us to dispose of our time, energy, money, and resources in a specific way. Sometimes this involves service to others. Other times such commitments include obligations to attend Services or particular events. And at other times, such commitments have us serving on committees, attending talks, or participating in groups.

Even with religion, we must continually ask ourselves – is “this” particular commitment worthwhile? Is it really adding value to my life? Is it really serving my freedom and growth? Is it perhaps valuable because it serves someone else’s freedom, growth, or well-being – after all, it can’t always just be about “me”.

These thoughts call to mind an earlier post of mine – a post concerning the sense that I am called to slow down, live more simply, and wisely use my time – https://aspaceinbetween.com/2013/08/28/deciding-to-honor-the-persistent-call/ .

Wishing us all the courage to look at our lives and purge that which isn’t aiding our growth and wholeness or that of others.

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Open Minded Appreciation – Not Relativism. How I Approach Religion

By Gregory

I am occasionally accused of being a religious relativist. I see value in many aspects of various religious traditions. I am comfortable talking positively about Jesus or the power of mitzvoth.  I see worth in forms of Neopaganism and maintain a healthy respect for several branches of Buddhism.  But I’m not a relativist – at least to my way of thinking.

I see common aspects that transcend particular religious traditions and therefore allow us to engage them without having to select one and then reject the beauty and worth of all others. I approach religion as a set of spiritual and moral traditions based around myth, symbol, and ritual that emerged to help various communities make sense of the world and convey what they believed was their particular wisdom for living a good and meaning life. Let me elaborate.

Culture, Wisdom, & Myth

Culture is the outgrowth of humanity’s social nature and is the totality of customs, practices, values, and communal structures that shape a people’s daily life. Culture’s function, in the general sense, is to promote wisdom – knowledge of how to live a full life. Religion tends to be the promoter/keeper of most forms of higher wisdom in any given culture and religion relies on myth to achieve this task.

I believe that there is transformative psychological potential from engaging myth (grand narratives that blend history, truth, fact, and fiction) and ritual – the myths, symbols, narratives, and rituals have real power – there is something about being human that inclines us to engage such things.

The human person is a story-telling, metaphor-loving, symbol-making being for whom myth encapsulates information regarding primal, existential meaning. The human person relates on a psychological-spiritual level to stories, narratives, icons, and parables. Therefore, the language of spirituality is that of myth, metaphor, and symbol. All myths are about the transformation of consciousness.

An authentic spirituality helps us become fully human; it is the transformation of the mind and heart through the engagement of myth, symbol, and ritual with the aim of genuine human growth – from self-centeredness to a sense of one’s self as part of a larger sacred whole and to a deep commitment to others rooted in compassion. Mature humans reach out when the instinct is to pull inward; give when the impulse is to take; and love when we are inclined to hate; to include when are tempted to exclude.

Sacred Texts

Most ancient, sacred texts, the Bible included, combine history remembered with history metaphorized, grand narratives that are also sweeping spiritual statements, providing context for answers (but not necessarily the answers themselves) to life’s existential questions.

Most ancients were not literalists as we tend to be today. Literal readings render the myths irrelevant. Further, the myths were meant to be read with one’s current worldview in mind – we are right to reject the ancient views of sacrifice, patriarchalism, marriage/family structures, and violence that are incompatible with a contemporary understanding of the world. Despite this necessary filtering, many myths contain a core of meaning that may inform contemporary spiritual practice. Personal spirituality requires weaving our own experience into these myths to form a narrative context for our life.

Ritual

Rituals, liturgies, and other spiritual practices allow us structured engagement of myth and symbol. It is in ritual that myth comes alive and is most potent in terms of transformative power. Ritual helps individuals understand their place in the cosmos and in the community.

Universalism & Subjectivity

Are all religions equal in value, worth, and beauty? I’d say, no, at least from my perspective. This is not to dismiss or denigrate any of the world’s great religious traditions.

Rather, it’s to acknowledge that not all religions have developed in accord with human dignity and advances in human knowledge. There may be beauty in some forms of primitive religious expression, but without updating and development, these traditions remain just that, primitive.

Here I also think of many emerging Neopagan and nature-based spiritualties that remain rooted in unreflective forms of polytheism and revolve around approaches to magic and spell work that can be rightly labeled fantasy. Still, there is often pieces of a healthy, positive core of ideas and impulses that if more fully developed can aid the growth of mature individuals.

Other religious traditions have become stuck in phases of development where priorities that don’t align and affirm human life and dignity become prominent. For example, I’d argue that some expressions of Islam have become mired in resentment and nihilism that have made them prone to violence, political manipulation, and fundamentalism.

In less severe ways, elements of Orthodox Judaism and some expressions of Christianity have followed a similar trajectory – too closely aligning themselves to limited political agendas, drifting into decaying forms of fundamentalism, and thus wearing themselves out in various extreme expressions.

Sadly, Orthodox Jews, Fundamentalist Christians, and Radical Muslims too often unite around agendas that seek to reverse the gains of modernity, commit violence in the name of God, and engage the political process to control it for limited and destructive ends.

Finally, it is important to note that not all spiritual traditions speak to all people. Not every path works for every person. There is a legitimate degree of subjectivity to myth, symbol, and ritual that allows room for individual personality and experience.

I find religion fascinating and I respond to the beauty and value in various traditions. Yet at the end of the day, I don’t find all traditions of equal worth or power.

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The Spirituality of October

pumpkinby Gregory

When I tell people that my spirituality has nature-based aspects and influence, they nod, think about, and then usually ask “ah, what exactly does that mean?”

Good question. The term nature-based spirituality can mean several things; it depends, largely on the context.

Let me start by saying what it doesn’t mean. Nature-based spirituality is more than a vague collection of sentiments, emotions, and warm fuzzies every time one looks at a sunset or takes a walk around trees. That’s all well and good, and being in nature can be a positive experience. But such sentiments only scratch the surface.

Nature-based spirituality, as I see it, involves at least four things:

Recognizing our Connectedness – there are real benefits to approaching reality from the perspective of systems thinking – everything that exists, exists in connection and relatedness to everything else. This is a primary insight of modern physics – the cosmos is one interconnected system. Even more so our planet – the ecosystem is just that – a web of life in which everything effects everything else, even when we don’t realize it. The unity of all being is a fundamental insight in many spiritual traditions, strongly so from a nature-based perspective.

Recognizing that Nature has Sacred Aspects – to call something sacred is to assign it a status of ultimate worth; it’s to recognize its vital status both practically and existentially. Nature is sacred in that it is the context of our lives, from nature we emerge, throughout our life we are sustained by it, and at the end of our lives, we return to it, or at least the matter that comprises our bodies does. The failure to appreciate the sacred status of nature is a fundamental error of judgment that leads to all sorts of problems and imbalances down the road.

Intuiting the Divine in Nature – different people find the Divine in different ways – for some liturgy works, for others its private ritual. Still, others find the Divine in relationships. All of the above works for me, but I also powerfully, unmistakably, find the Divine presence infused in nature. I feel the Divine presence in the world – especially in the playing out of nature’s cycle’s, seasons, and rhythms. I intuit the Divine vitalism in the pulse of the earth.

Ecological Concern – if nature is sacred, and we truly appreciate our connectedness and interdependence not only with each other, but to every tree, field, and other living thing, then ecological concern takes on profoundly new meaning. Efforts at conversation, reversing pollution, and protecting the planet take on a truly religious dimension.

There are certain times of year that speak to me more clearly than others. I find that the “spaces in between” the seasonal transition times convey spiritual significance. October is one of those times. Here in the Upper Midwest, it’s easy to notice the end of the growing season, observe the final harvest activities, and notice the lushness of summer fade into a blaze of colors and then to gray and brown so quickly.

October speaks very clearly to endings, to finality, and to death and transition. How can one not reflect on these things if one is paying attention to the natural world around them?

If we examine our spiritual traditions, we see that indeed, people have been paying attention.

In Christianity, the end of October is All Saints and All Souls days. The Church follows the natural instinct and reflects on death, finality, and the things to come. November 2 is All Souls day – the traditional time to remember, pray for, and honor the dead.

In Judaism, often the High Holidays – the days dedicated to reflection, self-examination, and taking stock of our lives fall in the early part of October, followed by Sukkot, the Harvest Festival. Perfect timing, if you ask me.

And in many nature-based spiritual traditions – today’s forms of Neopaganism – Halloween is considered one of the highest holy days. The holiday originates with the ancient Celts who celebrated it as Samhain – an Irish word meaning “end of summer.” And again, the holiday is a time to honor ancestors, reflect on death, darkness, and light and life, and ponder this year’s harvest – both literally and metaphorically.

One way I hope to engage this time of year is by writing another experimental Seder ritual. A Jewish expression of the season – to be held around Halloween. Its themes? Finality, harvest, death, and hope. There are ample resources, readings, and poetry to call upon and employ. There will be blessings, wine, bread, and harvest foods. I will especially incorporate aspects of the Jewish Yizkor service – the service remembering the dead. I don’t find any of this morbid or off-putting. Rather, I find it fitting, healthy, and necessary for spiritual balance.

October speaks clearly for those who will stop, take the time, and listen intently. What does October say to you?

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Spirituality & the Blending of Influences

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by Gregory

A snapshot of my spirituality and its influences:

PERSONALISMAn approach to philosophy and theology rooted in a vision of the dignity of persons and their inherent metaphysical value. The central thrust of Personalism is to affirm the dignity of all persons, treating all as ends in themselves. This anthropological vision of dignity shapes one’s view of ethics (tending toward a natural law approach), culture (promoting a culture of life, beauty, creativity, and dignity), economics (maximizing economic liberty infused by humane values and concern for the poor), and politics (participation, solidarity, subsidiarity, and the common good).

CHRISTIANITY – A deep appreciation of Jesus’ radical vision of the egalitarian, universal, open, transformative Kingdom of God. However, I don’t find the “metaphysical” claims about Jesus – blood atonement, Resurrection, Jesus as Logos, and so on – as convincing. In Jesus we see much of the Torah vibrantly embodied and the essence of the Covenant expanded for all. Additionally, I appreciate how Jesus is the living, dynamic way to God for billions of Christians.

NATURE-BASEDEverything is interrelated; everything that exists stands in relation to everything else in an interconnected, unified system. Humanity is inherently part of nature, we do not stand above or outside the ecosystem; we are fully ingrained within it. We find God in this world, in and through nature, and in our daily relationships. By exploring our own nature through the cycles of life and death, dark and light, the unfolding of the seasons, planting, sowing, harvesting, and by attuning ourselves to the rhythms of earth, sun, and moon, we learn about ourselves and about Divine energies.

JUNGIAN THOUGHT – An application of Jungian thought to spirituality and religion, especially insights into the role of myth, narrative, symbol, and ritual in personal transformation and growth. Jungian anthropology and understanding of the human psyche can complement and deepen the insights of Personalism.

JUDAISM(REFORM TRADITION) To be Jewish is to accept God’s Covenant and its requirements of loving your neighbor as yourself, welcoming the stranger in your midst, striving for justice, reaching out to the marginalized, and offering an open hand to the poor and needy. It’s participating in the ongoing Exodus of God’s people, seeking liberation from narrow, selfish ways through kindness, simplicity, mindfulness, forgiveness, and repentance. This is the path of life.

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Spiritual Community

By Gregory

If you currently belong to a church, congregation, Temple, or some sort of spiritual-religious community I’d like you to ask yourself what do look for from that community. Why do you belong? What makes for a good spiritual community? What do you hope to give and get in return?

I’d really enjoying hearing from others – be they Christian, Jewish, or other – about their experiences, hopes, and frustrations with their own communities. These questions have been on my mind for a while. Thus far, I’ve concluded that I’m looking for the following:

Intimacy – to be known – I don’t want to be an anonymous worshipper or an unknown member. I want people to know me and I want to know them. Granted, we all can’t be best friends, and we can’t all know everyone in great depth, but I’d hope to know the basic details about most people in my community – what they do, if they have kids, how they are doing, and so forth. And I enjoy and hope to become friends with some of them – seeing them outside the confines of the building and at times other than services – going to dinner together, celebrating holidays, and supporting one another in life’s ups and downs.

Genuine Spirituality – I’d like to be fed, challenged, and engaged spiritually. By spirituality I mean that which helps us find meaning in our lives, that which contributes to our sense of purpose and place in the world, that which helps us become better persons. I want the general message of my community to be more than “be a nice person”. And I want to be engaged spiritually as an intelligent individual who doesn’t mind solid theology now and then – even if it’s somewhat controversial.

A Sense of Mission – I want my spiritual community to have a purpose other than keeping the doors open and gaining new members. Why do we bother with services? What are we hoping to achieve by meeting? What role do we play in the broader communities where we find ourselves? Our focus has to reach beyond the walls of our house of worship. I want to be part of a community that worries about and engages the poor in the local area with more intensity than they muster about replacing the sanctuary carpet. 

Integrity – I want to be part of a community that does its best to live according to the values it preaches and claims as its own. Do we welcome the stranger? Do we love our neighbor? Do we care for the needy in our midst? Do we reach out to the misfits and those who are different among us? Or are we more worried about our liturgical music, flower arrangements, and committee assignments?

Hospitality – I want to feel welcomed and I want to be part of a group of people who welcome others – who take risks and say “hi” or go beyond the superficial polite conversation, who move beyond their cliques, who invest in other’s well-being, who truly care, and who are willing to love others, even those who are different than themselves.

Engagement – Not Programs – I’d like the community to address what is really on people’s minds and hearts and not simply lose themselves in being busy with programs aimed at reinforcing our limited identities and increasing our ranks. It’s more meaningful to get a few people together to honestly discuss some issue with openness in a more or less unstructured way, than it is to have large numbers watch some poorly-produced DVD series or attend a boring adult education lecture series. Please, no programs for the sake of having programs so we look busy.

What else do you look for in your spiritual community? What do you want? What do you think of the above? How do we reach these goals and create such communities?

 

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Deciding to Honor the Persistent Call

Áine Órga shared the following insight a few days ago on her blog, Spinning the Wheel (http://spinningofthewheel.wordpress.com/):

It’s been a few years now since I realized that without addressing my spiritual needs, I was never going to achieve true happiness.”

Wise words that have been rolling around in my thoughts. There are many ways to cultivate one’s spirituality and they are not always the formal, structured ways that first come to mind.

Since early this year (2013), I’ve been experiencing a subtle yet persistent, noticeable and quiet inner voice – a calltoward a particular way of living. I’ve been hearing whispers of the following things that I now feel it’s time to heed:

Simplicity

Since my early 30s, simplicity has been a core value and goal in my life. I realized back then that modern life is often hurried, complicated, and stressful with widespread depression and illusive happiness. I’ve watched too many friends become trapped by dysfunctional consumerist thinking that equates a good life with having more things – they live in beautiful neighborhoods, in cluttered, 4,000 square foot homes – and every family member takes Prozac or Paxil. They spend hours every week going shopping and going to therapy.

Simplicity also advises against excessive busyness. Our culture is inhumanely fast paced. Chronic over-commitment and perpetual rushing leaves many of us exhausted and stressed.

Self-discipline is pivotal to such a lifestyle – in the face of superfluous, 24-7 distractions, options, iThings, and activities it’s important to learn to say “no” and accept that the motto of “having it all” is a myth.

I fell called to more actively embrace the challenge that less is more – slow, simple, mindful living is the progressive answer to our culture gone mad – at least for me. I’m being called to deliberately choose to slow down, unplug more often, and let up on the accelerator, ease the pace, and let life unfold at a humane speed.

Tightening the Circle

I’m an extrovert who believes in the importance of hospitality and friendship. Yet I feel I’m being called to tighten my social circles and examine my relationships for reciprocity. For the past few years my home has been an open place of gatherings, dinners, holiday celebrations, and events. And I’ve enjoyed being able to provide a space of hospitality. Many people have passed through my door.

But I’ve begun to realize that there are many people who come, join in, and celebrate, but don’t reciprocate. The invitation is not returned. Reciprocity is more than hosting – I know not everyone can accommodate or even afford to hold dinners at their home, but an invitation out for a simple evening, or even a phone call or email to say “hi” would be appreciated – reciprocity is about engagement, touching base, and the mutual invitation to share in life. Genuine relationships require such mutual effort and openness.

Fortunately, my husband and I have several close friends who do reciprocate – couples and single people, who have us over for drinks or dinner, or who invite us out, include us in their lives, keep in touch, and share in life’s ups and downs.

The same evaluation and tightening will be applied to the groups and organizations I belong to – is there reciprocity, genuine caring for one another, time offered by individuals, and invitations to individual’s homes, smaller groups, and intimacy? If not, then why invest? I want friends, not membership cards.

I’m being called to tighten my social circle and focus on the people who are willing to enjoy the give and take that genuine friendship requires. The rest I’ll let gently fade away.

More Living, Less Thinking

I feel called to read less formal theology and philosophy, to engage less in deep, extended discussions on abstract matters – and live a little more, have more fun, and engage life a little more actively. I plan on starting yoga classes in the next week or so. I want more time to take walks or be spontaneous. And I plan on looking for more ways to enjoy lighthearted fun.

I intend to carve out more time to simply be. Yes, there will still be books by the bedside, but hopefully the pile will be slightly smaller. I might engage more gently on Facebook and blog a little less, too.  The mystery of life is meant to be experienced as well as thought about.

Back to Nature

The focus of my spirituality has shifted, incrementally, but steadily, over the past several years. I once sent my prayers heavenward, into the skies, believing that meaning was “up there” beyond the firmament. I practiced a predominantly vertical spirituality. Now, my gaze is outward, but not necessarily up – and in nature I sense a subtle presence. I encounter this presence here in this world, on my level, and mostly in nature. My spiritual attention has switched to a horizontal focus.

I strongly sense the need to be grounded in nature – to be outside more, to get away from things now and then, to spend time among immersed in nature’s sounds. Thankfully, I live only minutes from woods, state parks, and am surrounded by trees, fields, and open areas.

As summer ends and we head into the crisp air and colors of fall, I intend on living my life a little more open ended, stretching my boundaries, and shaking up my routine. I intend on examining my current commitments to see which ones truly feed me and which ones are worth my investment. I intend on tightening my social circle somewhat, spending more time with people who want to engage.

I intend on listening to the gentle, quiet, wise inner voice for a change and see where it leads me. Wish me well on the way.

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