An online ad for a book on spiritual practices reads:
“We all have a spiritual side, but for many of us, it’s something we don’t quite understand. We may feel drawn to certain spiritual concepts but have no idea how to incorporate them into our lives. That’s where the importance of having a spiritual practice comes in. A spiritual practice is any activity that helps us connect with our higher selves and find meaning in life.”
I understand that many people feel the need to connect with something or someone “spiritually,” and also the confusion and bewilderment about how to go about it.
Is it possible that the answers are obvious, hidden before our eyes?
Many Religious Options
I’m referring to the religion in which we were raised, and for those who were raised with no religion, to the many religious options that are available.
Isn’t the situation like the person who wants to access the Internet but is unaware of all the Internet providers that have been around for years? Or the person who needs a doctor who doesn’t know you can access information on thousands of them online?
The problem may be that today, religion has a bad name that is only partially warranted. References by the author of the advertised book indicate that he or she was raised in a “megachurch,” and was negatively impacted by it. But one line in the book description contains this paraphrase: I haven’t met a priest that can tell you about heaven, but I’ve met lots of priests who can tell you about the tiniest corners of hell.
Interesting, because since the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, I’ve heard few to no references to hell from priests from the pulpit and none, except for theological speculation, in countless conversations with priests.
What Religions Are For
The tired stereotypes and misconceptions about religion, and religions, are endless these days. In my opinion, the obvious way for a person to become more spiritual is to find a religion that can help with that. That, after all, is what religions are for.
My own long experience with Catholicism has taught me to pray, and recently engage in “Centering Prayer,” a type of meditation, that has more than satisfied my need for spirituality.
Today, many people think of meditation as a Buddhist practice, and that is an attractive alternative for many, but meditation and asceticism began for Christians with the practices of the “desert fathers” (and mothers) in the third century A.D. That is if you don’t count Jesus’ own practice of going to the desert by himself to pray.
But meditation and solitary prayer is by no means the only type of Christian spiritual practice. In fact, many Christians believe community prayer is the only true Christian form of prayer because so many early Christian prayers, and those prayed throughout the history of Christianity, emphasize the “we” as opposed to the “I.”
Personally, I don’t see any conflict between the two. When I pray silently, I try to always include the “we” – my family members, my church community, the people I’ve met during the day or those who have served me in restaurants or stores, the people I’ve met in Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador and various parts of Ireland, the people in war-torn parts of the world.
A Cottage Industry
Many today look for “spirituality” apart from religion, and marketing it has become a cottage industry. And who can argue against anything that provides people with peace or meaning?
But spirituality apart from God, in my view, is like a sandwich without bread, a car without an engine, the sky without stars. Indeed, people searching for God, or already committed to God through faith, have already embraced the highest form of spirituality. What may be lacking is awareness, or commitment.
People searching for God in the Christian tradition regularly connect to the great “someone” through prayer, meditation, other people, nature, or all of the above.