You’re trying to make sense of something that you just can’t see *

June 18, 2008

Today I am learning about spirituality.

My class consists of ten people: 3 diehard atheists who consider themselves ‘non-spiritual’ and find the whole thing rather off-putting; 6 who consider themselves to be “a spiritual person” but don’t believe in God, and one person who outed herself as religious. (Me.)

We started by talking about definitions of spirituality. Themes that came up included connections with other people and the world around us and the search for meaning and transcendence. My definition (which might have been slightly softened because I was acutely conscious of being the only person in the room who plays for my team) was ‘a connection with something that is greater than yourself’. (No prizes for guessing where that wording comes from.) And I hastened to add – which I do believe – that this could be anything. For some, it’s a connection with the natural world. For others, it’s their relationships with those they love, or a more general sense of connectedness to others. For me, it’s God.

I don’t expect everyone to believe in God. I wish it didn’t get quite such a bad press, because it’s by far the best thing in my life. It makes me a better person, and it makes me happier and more at peace. But it is not everyone’s thing, and I do not think it is my job to tell other people what to believe.

However, I do believe that we all have a spiritual side to us, even if this does not translate into a search for the divine. I do believe we have an innate desire for meaning and connection in our lives. My ex-boyfriend, a militant atheist, found his meaning in life through helping his friends. He would do anything for them, and nothing made him happier. And it was a different kind of happiness from how he felt cooking or gardening or skiing. Perhaps a better word would be fulfilment. Others find this in creative activity or relations with family, or a myriad of other sources. And I do believe that we benefit on many levels from nurturing our spirituality, and we suffer if we ignore or deny it.

This post doesn’t have any particular point. I’m not trying to make a case for anything. I’m not even trying to pass on my own learning, because I’ve come to this place through a long and complex journey and I do not believe I could have got there any other way. As much as anything, I’m writing to figure out what I think.

It is an interesting topic for a lot of reasons. It’s interesting to watch my class getting het-up about this, far more than they have done over any topic so far. And so far this week we have talked about ancient philosophy, culture, experiments on people and animals (yes, I cried all evening on Monday, why do you ask?), the mind-body problem, nihilism, loneliness, existential angst and death. (Yes, I am tired, why do you ask? And it’s only Wednesday.)

There is something in this space that is really emotive. It presses buttons, both in the spiritual types and the atheists. I’d venture to suggest that it presses buttons for SJ, and it presses buttons for me. I’m becoming very curious about what’s going on here.

* My thanks to Hano for the title of this post. He is now in charge of post titles.


5 Responses to “You’re trying to make sense of something that you just can’t see *”

  1. Jo Says:

    Re: Hano the Titlist
    And whose lyrics is he going to nick for his next title, pray tell? 🙂

  2. Alithea Says:

    I really don’t know what it is about spirituality that pushes peoples buttons so. I think a lot of it is due to misunderstandings about exactly what we mean by various terms, but maybe it is also a lot to do with how central our views either way are to our identity. We have a tendency to feel personally ‘attacked’ almost when people disagree with us on these issues, not least because people seem to find it very hard to accept the alternative view (atheists, for example, who refuse to believe that faith and intelligence are not mutually exclusive, and religious people who refuse to accept that one can be moral without being religious).

  3. PhilD Says:

    Jo asked: “Re: Hano the Titlist
    And whose lyrics is he going to nick for his next title, pray tell?”

    I’m working on it, F sets difficult challenges 🙂

  4. Calluna V. Says:

    It’s interesting. I was thinking about you – among others – today, because I was ordering books for one of our faculty members, and one of the books involved my searching through a Christian book store online. I was dismayed to discover how many of my buttons just doing that much pushed, for a lot of reasons. “Some of my best friends are Christians” sounds like a bad joke, but the fact is that some of the people I like and respect most in the world *are*, and it’s an important part of their (your) identity. Moreover, I’ve gotten a lot out of my encounters with Christianity in all sorts of forms, all my life. And I thought I’d beaten the knee-jerk reaction for good while I was in Divinity school. It was very unsettling to find myself back in it. Granted, the world I was immersing myself in wasn’t just Christian, it was a particular kind of USian protestantism that likes to just call itself “Christianity” as a claim to a universality which is highly problematic, and it comes loosely associated with a large cluster of common attitudes and beliefs. But still. It wasn’t how I wanted to be feeling.

    And so I can understand your caution, but I’m sorry for it. I hope that as the class progresses, you are able to abandon it by the wayside.

  5. patrickhadfield Says:

    I think it is music and art for me. It makes sense of the world.

    Which is a strange idea.

    And if you didn’t pick up on the cymbalism, here’s Spiritual.

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