The other day I had lunch with a woman whose mom is a resident of the nursing home where I work. Laura is a kind and gentle gal. Her mom has experienced a big decline recently and Laura’s taken FMLA from work to spend more time with her. She’s been busy for a couple weeks helping, worrying, and trying to navigate all the tough stuff that happens when your mom is not doing so well. We have been talking a lot, as this is all new to her. Of course you only lose your own mom once, but I’ve witnessed the process quite a few times and I’ve tried to pay attention. Laura and I have, over several years of infrequent conversations, established a good rapport.
At lunch we ended up talking about spirituality. I found the words flowing freely from my mouth, and subsequently I was able to tease out an interesting realization from what transpired. I’d like to try to explain it here.
In this day and age, with science ruling the philosophical landscape and so much sharing of ideas possible, I think it’s very easy to get confused about how to relate to Spirit, God, Goddess, Divinity, the Mystery, or All that Is (whatever one chooses to name It).
Science seems to point out some holes, some weaknesses, in most of the accepted religious constructs, including the one I grew up with, Christianity. I would argue that, for some of us, popular religions do not explain the nature of our lives and facilitate our relationship to Spirit as well as they may have to generations past.
Due to the amazing interpersonal communication potential we now have, our breadth of experience moves us closer to a realization that all spiritual systems are in essence just different metaphors for everything that exists beyond our capacity for understanding.
Now I don’t know about you, but this whole thing proves to be a stumbling block to me at times. I grow concerned thinking that my practice may be limiting my spiritual growth, or retarding my appreciation for and attempts at embracing All that Is. Maybe I am keeping my foot on the brake. Maybe I have wrapped up the Mystery in a metaphorical straight jacket. Maybe I should be trying to approach the Divine without any restrictive constructions.
While I was talking to Laura and watching her closely as the words tumbled out of my mouth, I realized that she was without any meaningful relationship to All That Is. She knew of the Mystery, I could tell, because her eyes welled up. But she was not in touch with All That Is. The Divine to her was something as illusive as the fragrance of blossoms blown on the wind, something that certainly exists because it has been experienced, but something that in no way lends itself to relationship.
Personal spirituality is our own intimate relationship with All That Is. It doesn’t matter what you call the Divine, or how you practice. What matters is your intention, and prolonged intentional interaction with the Mystery cannot help but create a deeply intimate relationship.
We, as beings mostly consigned to an existence of limited expression and limited ability to perceive, find it pretty much impossible to be in relationship with something formless. We can have a direct and compelling relationship with each other, or with a house or a tree, or an artistic creation, but not with Mystery, something that is by definition formless.
I have come to believe that religious systems are simply constructs that give the formless form. They are knowable systems of thought and practice that metaphorically represent something that by definition is unknowable. Probably this is what science is too…
We have to wrap the Mystery in a personally approachable construct, a limiting metaphor. We have to give the formless form. Within form the Divine becomes approachable. Then and only then we can create a relationship with Spirit.
So lets get back to lunch with my friend. Laura’s eyes told me that she had been walking through this life, knowing of All That Is, but unable to enter into relationship even though, especially now, she felt great longing to do so. I could tell from the way she was burrowing deep into the sound of my words.
Laura’s education and personal experience led her to feel that every standard religious presentation, Islamic, Christian, Wiccan, Judaic, all had way too many divisive rules walling off what she fundamentally knew to be the limitless and expansive concept of real Divinity.
And I realized then and there that some of us have to roll our own.
Some of us have to wrap the Mystery up in metaphors we create ourselves. Spirit is not something you can be in relationship with directly. Christians, Jews, Witches, Muslims have all worked hard to create linguistic and practical systems which serve as sturdy metaphorical wrappers. This works for a whole lot of people. But for some of us, all we see are the holes in those wrappers, holes that prevent those systems from working for us. When there are holes in the paper, the smoke won’t draw.
These days I’ve rolled up something that’s like a mix of Gnostic Christianity and Wiccan practice. Might seem weird to you, but it works for me.
Discovering I can create my own wrapper (metaphorical framework) for All That Is has enabled me to engage and create a direct and intimate relationship with a formless, unknowable Mystery.
It was clear that nobody had ever told my friend Laura that she didn’t have to buy into one of the off-the-shelf wrappers, that she could discern and embrace her own, thus discovering the intimate spiritual relationship she so desired at this difficult point in her life. I didn’t tell her this at lunch, because it took a little while for the concept to attract all the language I needed to express it. But I’m looking forward to our next talk. I’ll be interested to see, from the look in her eyes, if this might make sense enough to open her up.