What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie
Are we meant to take more than we give?
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it’s wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie
I know there’s something much more
Something even non-believers can believe in
I believe in love, Alfie
Without true love we just exist, Alfie
Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing, Alfie
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you’ll find love any day, Alfie, Alfie
– BACHARACH, BURT / DAVID, HAL
I’ve written many times before about the importance of a mystical sense – or perhaps better stated – a sense of the mysterious as foundational to spiritual living. I speak of living within a spiritual framework that ought to be included with our “scientific” fact-focused deconstructive mode of perceiving and understanding reality.
It is my sense that having been born and nurtured within an intensely religious culture, I have acquired a kind of innate sense of how I want to be “religious” or be “spiritual” or “guided and prompted” in seeking and obtaining a serene way of perceiving and understanding reality.
I want to insert here the following paragraphs that have meaning for me in the sense of how I might attempt to express my internal wiring :
Spirituality means something different to everyone. For some, it’s about participating in organized religion: going to church, synagogue, a mosque, etc.
For others, it’s more personal: Some people get in touch with their spiritual side through private prayer, yoga, meditation, quiet reflection, or even long walks.
Research shows that even skeptics can’t stifle the sense that there is something greater than the concrete world we see. As the brain processes sensory experiences, we naturally look for patterns, and then seek out meaning in those patterns. And the phenomenon known as “cognitive dissonance” shows that once we believe in something, we will try to explain away anything that conflicts with it.
Humans can’t help but ask big questions—the instinct seems wired in our minds.
For me, the enduring power of religion is not in offering identity as belonging to a morality-based social club that shows up on Sunday for organizational busy-ness and engages in god-talk. The enduring power of religion is not in slogans or mantras. Nor is it a matter of following any brethren.
Rather, it lies within the realm of human needs for meaning and purpose in living.
What seems to involve a way of life is the pattern of living. It lies more in the perceptive realm of mind and spirit; certainly not best served with the traditional literal-minded approach of moralizing or enduring (suffering with patience) to the end.
When our non-physiological internal hungers flare up the void to be filled is not satisfied by chicken soup, a hot bath and a good night’s sleep. These kinds of internal hungers and dis-satisfactions reflect not a lack of consumable organics, but a powerful uneasiness … restlessness with life.
Our thoughts truly are who we are; what has and continues to form us.
When we think we are just worried about things, wanting things we don’t have, dissatisfied with work, with marriage, with friends, our church, our community, the economy or the government – even our favorite pro team that’s never going to win a championship – we are thinking the thoughts that form us.
If I am religious then my religiousness holds out possibilities to my internal restlessness that there is something that will adequately respond to internal desire – that fills the void.
If I am religious then congregational spirituality must offer something more than Sunday group and conformity-dominated worship with its attempt to pretend that everyone in life is always on the same page, in the same predicaments and has available the same blessings of the church and gospel principles.
There’s something blatantly impersonal in that sort of exhortation to group conformity.
Families must be offered more than sterilized and programmed lessons and endlessly similar and repetitive discourses in meeting and conferences. The overworked clichéd generalities that create feelings of acceptance and belonging to the mega-church in-crowd that flocks together in pious self-congratulation every Sunday do not satisfy.
I returned to the church as a human being who expects more from the Church of my culture and heritage than just going through weekly motions and repeating worn out slogans. I want help as I seek something responsive beyond chicken-soup to my internal hunger. It’s a hunger that cries out for something of substance and not rigid god and scripture talk.
It’s a hunger for an experience that is barely verbal but more powerfully prompted from within by something Holy Spiritual (wholly spiritual).
Satisfying that hunger involves one simple concept.
I believe in taking and holding personal boundaries of ownership of spirituality just as one takes ownership and responsibility to provide for one’s self and family. We ought not ever casually allow anyone or any group to come and go as they please across those boundaries.
Responsible citizens do not run to something external like a government for food and shelter dependency.
Nor should citizens run to the local house of worship to for spiritual feeding and shelter – creating a dependency that is only a single step away from the fear, shame and guilt of the cult.
This is not what is obtained by splashing in the shallow waters of mega-church scripturally-literal spirituality that, when all is said and done, shackles itself to the limits of literal-minded moral whining; to what amounts to an approval theology that masquerades as the teaching of Jesus the Master.
The power behind our beliefs is not our ability to become educated in what scripture SAYS, thereby permitting us opportunities to publicly display how well we can read or memorize verses. Power lies in what scripture, prayer, tradition and reason prompt within.
I’m not talking about being prompted to obey, conform and donate.
I believe that in our lives we live an un-spoken communal experience of what is divine both inside and outside. I believe that such is vital to Salt Lake Mormonism before it bleeds to death. That perception lies within the potential of every LDS member. It does however remain powerfully elusive – even perhaps hidden – while the emphasis on social behavior, conformity and financial contribution serves more as conformity-laden obstacles to an unselfconscious life of illuminated love of the Lord.
I look across my laptop at the wife and sweetheart who has learned more about my religion and the impact of its religious culture in the past year than I did over my 40 years of self-programmed activity. I see – in a sense – my mortal rescuer who out of love and devotion to our marriage almost literally dragged me back to the process for restoring the cultural skin I inadvertently tore off when I had my church membership removed.
My companion has her own mystical sense and connection with the divine. She does not have nor does she live with the mystical sense of connection and prompted illumination that is mine. She is scriptural, extremely spiritual in a more practical and Good Samaritan way than am I and the ultimate fulfillment of the promise in my Patriarchal Blessing of finding a companion who is strong.
She has given me blessings in formal and informal ways and I absolutely trust her spirituality which is faithful to the vows and promises of our marriage and to my religion. I expect that she lives a prompted and illuminated life but according to her own lights and definitions, none of which need to conform to anything outside our home and marriage.
I trust that our Heavenly Parents will bless and inspire her in ways to help her continue the beautiful unfolding that has become her life; the sense of eternal togetherness of our marriage that needs no formal ordinance to imply forever.
No one can give you a spiritual testimony identical to theirs in a sense of converting you to their way of thinking. It’s not about getting you to see things in any one “true” way, but about encouragement to blend spiritual exploration with critical thinking that does not rely merely on logic and fact, but also with internal feeling. It is internal feeling that reflects whether spiritual-mindedness is part of how one views and interacts with life and whatever “reality/the real world” means in that sense.
I am willing make suggestions, not from my surety of truth, but from my own internal feelings.
(1) Self analysis: Determine what spiritual approach or attitude is natural to you and then work to thrive on it.
(2) It is important that you understand how you view reality.
If you see reality as an earthly world governed spiritually by a divine monarch – a king who commands, judges and rewards/punishes- then the world of literalism that typifies Salt Lake Mormonism is what will work for you.
You can safely utilize written scripture and willingly follow the brethren and/or sistren as a method of compliance with formulaic instruction and a code of moral rules and rituals.
There is nothing wrong with this so long as your natural stance tends to be a response to God as a lawgiver and scripture as law – the letter of the law.
But, if you understand or come to understand that a more natural approach is one of reason applied to spiritual concepts and an internal hunger for some sense of spiritually palpable communion with the divine, then your tendency is toward a more mystical approach.
“Religion” as a label of your spirituality is not the word to describe your spirituality.
The idea of communing with The Divine as you perceive The Divine and not how anyone else defines divinity is what matters. Such is based more on prayer, scripture and reason than you might realize as you allow yourself to ignore everyone else’s “magic” (anyone else’s definitions) and establish for yourself precisely what works for you.
Regarding someone else’s magic, if you do not define your own reality, rather let someone else do so, then the reality is not yours. It is borrowed by you – loaned from someone else. Furthermore, as with something loaned, the lender will only validate your use of loaned magic as you use it in ways approved by the lender. In other words, your magic is not yours – it is the lender’s magic to own. It is formulaic by definition since it won’t be validated unless you adhere to the lender’s requirements.
A direction of study…..
If you study with an approach that reflects searching, pondering and praying, then there are lots of written sources available. The number of sources will be a matter of how much width, breadth and depth you desire.
Reading and activity sources that I used are the only things I can recommend from personal experience.
And I offer this advice, Trust your relationship with The Divine. Accept or at least, suspend disbelief regarding the idea of spiritual prompting.
Do not be afraid of books from outside your faith tradition. If you have come to adulthood believing only in scripted and approved study that limits you to your church, you’ll be wrestling with things you are inclined to resist. If you believe that there are things God does not want you to know then perhaps you should stay inside a limited existence governed by someone else.
If not, then I recommend – among other things – the writings I have personally read, pondered and prayed about … and found efficacious:
(a) The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell.
(b) Myth and Ritual in Christianity, Alan Watts
(c) Behold the Spirit, Alan Watts
(d) Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Marcus Borg.
If you have similar experience with promptings and illumination inspired by religion then consider beginning studies with genuine uninhibited thinking about your own personal mystical events. These are in fact spiritual promptings and the source of everything from hunches to revelations.
Remember, noone, no church, no theology has a monopoly on personal revelation. God needs no one’s permission to reveal Himself or Herself … and no one to tell you what it all means and what The Spirit is telling you. You’ll know without anyone’s help.
Active pursuit of the Spirit and communion.
Find scripture that is written in language clear to you. Furthermore: If you tend toward Judeo-Christian scripture (I use The New Jerusalem Bible), find a Bible that contains the Wisdom Books. All of the Wisdom books, from Job to Ecclesiasticus contain thoughts more than laws. Especially useful is the Wisdom of Solomon which expresses the Holy Spirit as Sophia or Wisdom. Read that with pondering and prayer and then see what you conclude about the Holiness of the Spirit. If you want more accurate or precise translations, find another.
What I have recommended is merely another way of going to our Heavenly Parents according to the Moroni promises. I found that the spiritual experience of the Divine opens itself widely and without limits. Freedom from the need to be validated by anyone else was wonderful. I was left to really be taught by the Spirit. It was my own Joseph Smith experience and informs the most vivid way of living as a Reform Mormon that I have known.