The following reflection was offered as part of our inaugural Jazz Vespers service on the afternoon of June 4. 48 people showed up to experience an experimental mix of music and spiritual reflection in partnership with Indigo Jazz.
Today I want to share some brief words on what authentic spirituality is. Or what authentic spirituality might be. I read something recently about despite the fact that religious affiliation is in decline. And that fewer and few people in North America identify with specific faith traditions, there is little decline in our sense of spirituality. People want spirituality that comes without the baggage of traditional religion.
It makes a lot of sense, of course. Many of us have had negative experiences with religious groups. There are many religious groups that are also publicly hostile to others who don’t share their values. And some have just found organized religion to just be boring. We all have a spiritual impulse, and so when things become barriers to us, we can’t be blamed for finding our way around them. So that many of us identify as “spiritual but not religious” makes a lot of sense. Even to someone like me. Whose livelihood is dependent on religion of the organized kind.
But as much as it makes sense. I think there is also something maybe missing… there’s something incomplete about this. That so often the way spirituality is understood is purely individualistic. It can solely be about me and my spiritual growth. It can be about me becoming enlightened, with that being the end of it. Purely reaching our potential. It changes us, sure, by making us more mellow, more relaxed, better and more productive at our jobs. Now, spiritual growth isn’t a bad thing. Not at all. It’s essential to the spiritual life, actually. But it has little to do with how we interact with others, and it does nothing to change our attitude to the outside world. We may end up changed. But the world stays the same. Spirituality that falls short is spirituality that begins with us. But also ends with us.
Authentic spirituality, on the other hand is different. Today’s an interesting day in the Christian faith tradition. The day of Pentecost. And the story that is told gives us an alternative to the kind of spirituality that is completely inward-focused.
The story goes like this. Jesus died. Jesus rose from the dead, and then he ascended. So his followers are without him. Going about their day-to-day business. Things probably got pretty boring. Gather like usual. Maintain the building. Pay the bills. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Normal, monotonous day. And then the story says that suddenly, there’s the sound of a rushing, violent wind. It fills the entire house where they’re staying. And then it says, something like divided tongues, as of fire, just appear among them. These tongues of fire appear, then they rest on each person gathered. Person by person. One after another. And it says “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” So it’s like these tongues as of fire appear among them, and they not only seem to land on each person. There’s a fire that is lit within each of them. And finally, it says, this mighty rushing wind lifts them off their feet. And it pushes them out in to the street.
Just a normal day. Routines and procedures. But suddenly, a fire is lit in each of them. And like a rushing wind they are swept off their feet and in to the street. There’s this inward trajectory of the Spirit that kindles a fire. Then there’s this outward trajectory, like a hurricane that shoves everyone out the door. There is an inward motion. Then an outward motion.
Inward, then outward. This is the shape of an authentic spirituality. From the self to the world. Those gathered are transformed. The power of the divine is like fire in the bones. And the only place to go is outward. On to the street. To speak a word of hope to their fellow human beings. From being changed ourselves. To being caught up like a car in a tornado in something way bigger than ourselves. Authentic spiritual growth is growth for a purpose. So we can forgive more easily. Love others, even enemies more deeply. And to bring healing, to care for others who find themselves on the edge of things. The sick, the poor, the outcast, the reviled and the hated. Authentic spirituality is a spirituality that changes us in order to play a part in changing the world.
This fire kindled in us is meant to be spread. It’s meant to consume the whole earth. Burning away all injustice, and softening our hardened hearts. A fire in the belly, one that can’t be contained by just me and my life. Or you and yours. A fire that burns so brightly that it incinerates the walls between our hearts and the hearts of our neighbors. Between our lives and the world’s needs. Inward, then outward. From self to the world.
Well, that’s what I think authentic spirituality is all about, anyway. That’s about it. Time for more music.