Sunday, August 24, 2008

Some Thoughts about Spirituality on a Sunday Morning

I have referred to Buddhism and concepts associated with Buddhism several times in this blog (including the title), which has caused a couple of early readers to ask me if I am a Buddhist. The answer is no. When it comes to religion I don't fall into any defined category. I do, however, think a lot about religion and spirituality and read widely on those topics. I guess you could say that I am seeker of truth who is open to good ideas about religion and spirituality regardless of their origin.

The first religion to which I was exposed was Christianity. My parents raised me as a Moravian, which is a fairly liberal Protestant denomination (although technically speaking I think it really is pre-Protestant -- check out for details). The Moravian Church's motto is "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, love," which seems to me to be a pretty good philosophy, both for a religion and more broadly speaking. I particularly like the Moravians' emphasis of love in all things, and I wish that people, including myself, would take up that invitation more regularly. I also like the Moravians' focus on personal liberty, which led them to do things like found a women's college in the 1700s; Salem College, located in my home town of Winston-Salem, N.C., is the oldest educational institution for women in the United States.

Probably because the Moravian tradition allows for so much free thinking, I found myself questioning what I understood to be the essentials espoused by the Moravian Church (the whole Father, Son and Holy Ghost business) from the time I was in junior high school. I went through high school in a bit of a spiritual muddle -- I wasn't really subscribing to the fundamentals of Christianity, but I didn't know much about what else was available. Then college offered the opportunity to learn about other religious traditions in a systematic way, and this began to shed some light on my spiritual puzzle. Although I haven't done any formal study of religion since college, opportunities for spiritual and religious growth have presented themselves routinely, sometimes in the strangest of places, and I have been trying to make the most of those opporunities as they arise.

Walking my dogs in a graveyard every day has been an amazing eye-opener in that regard. Spending a lot of time looking at tombstones, many of which mark graves of people who died much younger than I am now, really got me to thinking about "the meaning of it all" -- is there a God or other divine presence; is there an afterlife; can there be one without the other, etc., etc., etc. Of course I didn't ever find scientifically acceptable answers, but I did get comfortable with the fact that I could never have that kind of an answer to those types of questions. For me that was a big step, and I found myself worrying a lot less after I took it.

Spiritual awareness also has come to me through reading. I randomly picked up a book about Buddhism earlier this summer and found myself drawn to what I believe to be some of the fundamental principles of that tradition, such as the ideas that everything is impermanent and that nothing in life is certain except change. These strike me as basic truths, the acceptance of which is beginning to allow for a much more unfettered and meaningful existence in the here-and-now.

I also was recently struck by a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. A friend of mine posted on her blog a poem from The Book of Hours, which is Rilke's collection of "love poems to God." I kept re-reading that poem and thinking "maybe, the next time I read this thing, I will not get chills and start to tear up." Never happened. I mentioned this to my friend who promptly loaned me the book, which I started reading last night. The sheer and seemingly effortless beauty of these poems defies description, and the chills and teary eyes just keep on comin' as I progress further into the collection. I get a similar feeling to this when listening to my favorite pieces of music by Beethoven and Bach, which also possess a beauty that is beyond words and never fail to evoke an emotional response.

Nowadays, when I walk in the graveyard or the arboretum, when I read Rilke, and when I listen to those pieces by Beethoven and Bach, I can't help but feel that there is some kind of divinity (which is why I probably will never be a Buddhist). What I sense is not the type of formal creator/divinity who hands down commandments and decides who goes to heaven and hell, as described in the Bible, but rather some kind of higher awareness that is simply and constantly there. I have no idea how to label it and I know that I cannot begin to understand its nature or methods. I do know, though, that I acutely feel its presence, both "out there" in the heavens and also in all aspects of the world around me, including each blade of grass and each person I encounter. So that is where I am spirtually at this moment -- I see divinity all around, its presence gladdens me, and I am comfortable simply pausing to tell it hello without demanding anything more from it. I don't know if that counts as "religion," but I'm pretty sure that it involves some kind of faith.

1 comment:

Reya Mellicker said...

As the light fades with the coming of fall, you'll no doubt feel the rustling of spirits in the cemetary. Maybe you already have?