Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Spiritual Struggle

One spring day I was taking our dog Hobbes for a walk and noted what a beautiful morning it was. The air was crisp, cool, and clear, the trees and lawns brightly green and gardens in bloom with a riot of colors. It was one of those e. e. cummings “most amazing days,” and I thought, how blessed I was to be a part of this universe, a part that could enjoy its beauty through the mystery of consciousness and self-consciousness, that somehow matter has evolved to the place of being able to see itself, to reflect on its own existence, inspired by that sacred drive for life that we call by many names, given our religious or philosophic perspectives. It was an ah-hah moment that came without struggle, that came naturally, that was an absolute gift.

That, I believe, is how many people think about spirituality and how I often experience the spiritual life: serendipitous, joyful, uplifting, insightful, broadening of one’s horizons. The idea of spiritual struggle seems contradictory, a paradox, a product of effort and dare I say “discipline,” as in practice? Do we really have to work at spirituality?

The truth is that we don’t always have “most amazing days” such as the one I described. That they are occasional is the very thing that makes them eventful and extraordinary. We go to work or we get sick or we have a colleague who bullies us or we wonder if we are loved or we live with or near or are related to challenging people. Community has once been defined as the place where the person you would least like to be with always lives.

And, as we look at our broader human family, we see poverty, hunger, disease, injustice, and violence interfering with the possibility of “most amazing days.”

But not to despair! In the retreats and workshops I lead I often do a meditation exercise in which people are invited to recreate in their imagination a moment when they felt most fulfilled, most connected, most loved and loving, most at peace. When time comes to share the images conjured up by this exercise, there are the usual, expected bucolic scenes like the one I just described. But there are just as often the unusual places, people, and things which despite all odds proved an environment or an occasion in which individuals felt complete, fulfilled, loved, loving, and at peace. Hospital rooms. Doing chores. Suffering a loss. Rising to a challenge. Comforting someone.

Perhaps that’s the wisdom behind the apostle Paul’s notion that “all things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” It’s not that all things are good, but even the bad things might be transformed for the good in a person who “gets” the larger spiritual picture.

We just experienced the rare convergence of Passover and Holy Week, both observances  of spiritual struggles. Jews remembered their oppression in Egypt, and how they heard Yahweh call them out of slavery through a wilderness and to a Promised Land. Christians remembered the Passion and compassion of Jesus struggling with religious and political authorities on behalf of “the least of these,” his crucifixion at the hands of Rome, and his return to those who believed.

Spiritual struggle is called “jihad” in Islam, and Muslims in the United States are now reclaiming the word from terrorists through an advertising campaign. In a sense they are engaging in “jihad” against Al Qaeda’s and the Taliban’s violent interpretations of the term.

Similarly, much of our spiritual struggle as progressive people of faith is reclaiming spirituality and religion from those who would coerce rather than persuade, control rather than cooperate, take rather than give, enforce rather than inspire, condemn rather than bless. And we each struggle with similar temptations within ourselves. Hopefully our struggle will lead to more “most amazing days” for all.

Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite.

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  1. So very true and so very beautifully expressed! Thanks, Chris!

  2. I haven't ever commented on your blog before, Chris, but I wanted to just let you know how much I appreciate your work. Your blog entries have been a source of inspiration & reflection for me several times, and it's interesting how sometimes we read the VERY things we needed to at the VERY time we happened to! :-) Please keep it up. You are an inspiration to MANY people of faith across the ideological spectrum!

  3. Thanks, Trudie and Zac! Zac, your words about the blog mean a lot to me and encourage me at just the needed time! I've been wondering how what I write actually affects people. Thank you!