An Honest Faith Part One: Healthy Spirituality
The quest for an authentic spirituality often begins in pain. Whether it is the result of dissatisfaction with the monotony of material life, the loss of a loved one, the suffering of the weak or the injustice of life, suffering at the hands of an uncaring or abusive religious institution, a crisis of faith, or even the result of a visionary experience or divine revelation, the quest for a spirituality that allows us to grow, allows us to transcend the empty platitudes and rituals of normal religious life, a spirituality that can serve as a foundation and support for continued growth and evolution is most often born out of a personal crisis.
Something has shaken us up. Something has triggered a reassessment of our worldview, or at least, how we carry ourselves in the world. Something has reached within us and torn aside the veil of ignorance that most of us wrap our everyday lives in, revealing to us the truth of our insecurity and our uncertainty. Something has cracked our constructs enough to allow us a small glimpse beyond our programming into a universe more vast than we could have imagined. And if we are not adequately prepared for it, such a revelation proves traumatic. We find ourselves challenging our life goals and values, challenging the ideological foundations that we have constructed our lives upon. Where we used to find our joy, our comfort, our satisfaction feels empty and worthless to us now.
Most of us will try to deny these changes. We will try to re-convince ourselves of the adequacy of our lives and values. We will try to numb the pain and quiet our doubts because to question the foundations of our life is to invite more than just a personal crisis for many of us, it opens the doors to familial or social rejection. Some of us will be able to quiet the whisper of revelation, to close the doors of expansion, to kill the seed of new growth and evolution. Some of us will choose the security of former ignorance over new knowledge and truth, but we are not the same. We have seen beyond the curtain. We have an idea of how vast our experience could be. We are not the same, even if we pretend to be.
Some of us will listen to the whispers in the dark. We will stir the flames of inquiry in the hopes of illuminating what has been hidden. We will look for the paths out of the place we have always been. We will challenge our culture. We will challenge our faith. We will challenge the very foundations on which we have built our lives because we want more. We have had a brief glimpse of the abundance of life, and we want that life, that life more abundantly.
When we embrace our new path, many of us will immediately seek something other than what we have known, either a different version of our own tradition (most often with the part that reminds us of our pain whittled away), or sometimes, into a whole new tradition. Most often, however, this leads us into an eclectic path, where we can pick and choose from a variety of traditions and build our own in the hopes of avoiding what caused us pain, or what was unsatisfying to us, or what we see as superfluous in our former tradition.
This eclectic approach can be a healthy first step, especially if we need a new perspective on spirituality or even just a rest from the tensions inherent in the experiences of our own past. If our goal is real spiritual growth, however, we must not allow ourselves to get stuck on an eclectic path. There are two very good reasons for this. “Eclecticism compromises the very traditions it draws upon.” Even within a single religious tradition there are many traditions of spiritual discipline. It is possible to be a student of more than one discipline, or even more than one religious tradition, but in doing so, we must refrain from imposing one on the other and live within the tensions between the traditions or the disciplines. Yes there will be tensions. Even between spiritual traditions within the same religious tradition. These traditions are not just a collection of techniques that can be pulled apart from the parent tradition and patched together to decrease the tension in our lives. These traditions, and the techniques within them, are parts of an integral whole built on the foundations of a specific model of reality or experience and designed to bring the student of the tradition into ever-greater depths of experience and insight. To pick out a few techniques without investing ourselves in the depths of the tradition is to dishonor the tradition and us.
The second reason it is important not to get stuck on an eclectic path is that in spite of apparent surface similarities the depths of each spiritual tradition (again, even within a single religious tradition) is particular to the subtleties of perspective cultivated by long term, in depth work within a specific model of reality or experience (what I call a “working model”). When viewed at depth, the major differences between working models and processes overpower the apparent similarities. If our goal is real spiritual growth, we are best off working within a spiritual discipline in order to swim the depths of the soul fully supported by the security of the discipline.
But what path do we follow? When we recognize that we have outgrown the need for the eclectic path, where do we go from there? There is a principle called “the language of the soul,” that should be our first consideration. As we grow spiritually, we will dive into the depths of our own souls. As we do so, we will encounter images that clothe forces within ourselves. These forces are manifestations of our most basic instincts linked to the powerful images of the content of the deepest reaches of our souls. The images or symbols that clothe these forces are drawn from our earliest and most pervasive symbolic languages. Whether we were raised going to church every day, or studied mathematics from infancy, the symbols of our earliest programming will be the language of the deepest level of our souls. For this reason, it is easier (and often most conducive to growth) to embrace a spiritual tradition that uses the same language to which we are already accustomed. This will often require us to redefine the contents of the symbols that comprise the language of our programming, but this can have a deeply therapeutic result. This is especially true when we carry pain and trauma associated with the symbols of our tradition. If we are to heal, we will have to come to terms with (which means accepting and assimilating) the symbols, the memories, and the wounds associated with our pasts. Reprogramming the symbols that have caused us pain into tools for continual growth and evolution is a difficult but deeply healing process.
This is my vision for The Progressive Episcopal Church. It will not be a good fit for everyone, but if, in the depths of who and what you are, you recognize that you have a need to realize our unification with GOD and are willing to tear down anything that is in the way of that realization, The Progressive Episcopal Church might be a good fit for you.
The religious life is not one all people are called to. Even those of us who are driven to an authentic spirituality are not all called to the discipline that is the hallmark of the religious life. Most of us simply want to get up in the morning, live a full day, and come home at night in peace and comfort. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, there is much to be celebrated in such a life. But some of us are driven or called to something else. And meeting this call is something we must do with great care. The kind of care we take with choosing a life partner.
If you have recognized the need for realization of our unification with GOD as the fundamental aim of your spiritual life there are three criteria you should look at prior to choosing a spiritual tradition. First, the working model of the tradition needs to give a full picture as to the nature of the barriers to your realization of our unification with GOD. The human condition is a complicated one, and if the tradition does not have a model that accounts for the complicated nature of the human condition, and does not give strategies for the successful investigation and transformation of the contents of that condition, it is most likely flawed on a deep level and will leave you unfulfilled. Second, the working model of the tradition needs to give a useful account regarding the causes of the barriers to our realization of our unification with GOD. It cannot stop with the symptoms, but must address the causes and describe them in such a way as to provide accurate and useful information. Third, the techniques of the tradition need to remove the barriers of your realization of our unification with GOD at the cause, while providing a way to deal with the symptoms to some degree. If the barriers are removed or transformed at a foundational level, many of the symptoms (such as emotional hyper-sensitivity) will disappear. However, these symptoms often manifest as habits, attributes, or character traits and their removal can leave us with a whole new set of problems. Thus, the techniques of the tradition needs to build into us the attributes that will habitually further our spiritual growth and personal evolution. This is perhaps the greatest argument for a graduated system of education within a spiritual tradition. If certain attributes are not in place when a particular barrier is removed, new and sometimes greater trauma can result.
The concern of the following series of articles is how Progressive Christianity can provide the means for us to realize our unification with GOD in an ever-deepening and ever-evolving way, as well as how the discipline that is at the heart of Christianity builds the attributes necessary to continually further that realization while providing a foundation for living that realization within the world.
To see whether the Way of Christ, as I envision it in The Progressive Episcopal Church, is a viable vehicle for your realization of our unification with GOD, we must set it against the three criteria above: to see the nature of the barriers to our realization, the causes of the barriers to our realization, and the discipline offered as a remedy. The next article will address these three criteria.
 Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering (Onalaska: Buddhist Publication Society, 2011), 2.
 Ibid, 4
 Ibid, 5