This is a working, personal manifesto for a spirituality that embraces diversity, change, embodiment, science, and mystery.
I want a spirituality that is deeply oriented around following the Way of Jesus while also being open to incorporating insights and practices from other religious traditions. Simone Weil wrote that “the tragedy of Christianity is that it came to see itself as replacing other religions instead of adding something to all of them.” We are not limited to simply choosing between popular forms of religious exclusivism or pluralism. There is not one “mountain” that we may climb in our search for God, as if all religious traditions promote the exact same pathways and destinations in the spiritual life. Rather, the landscape of the world’s historic religions contains multiple mountains, each with their own unique terrain and summits, each with unique and well-worn pathways in humanity’s journey towards the Divine. This is a form of deep religious pluralism which recognizes that much of humanity’s great religions contain unique yet complementary wisdom. Such a “both/and” approach honours the unity and diversity that exists amongst religious traditions while also guarding against the danger of homogenizing religions into one indistinct amalgam, as well as guarding against the danger of violently pitting different religious traditions against each other in some misguided pursuit of truth.
I want a spirituality that welcomes and celebrates differences in their various forms, including cultural, religious, and sexual diversity. I want a spirituality that meets the unique challenges and opportunities of living in a global society. I therefore reject the divisiveness and fearfulness inspired by so much of religious fundamentalism. Instead, I want a spirituality that celebrates differences and cultivates empathy for one’s neighbours.
I want a spirituality that pursues peace, seeks justice, and promotes active, unconditional love for all people. Far too much blood has been shed and violence been caused in the name of God or religion. This is part of the long shadow of religious history that must been acknowledged, accepted, and addressed. In keeping with the Way of Christ, I want a spirituality that does not ignore or sidestep religiously motivated violence, but rather one that seeks to respond to violence with peace, fear with empathy, and hatred with love.
I want a spirituality that integrates and honours body, soul, and spirit. Neither shallow forms of materialism paired with epistemological scientism, nor shallow forms of spiritualism paired with religious fundamentalism will do. Rather, a healthy, holistic spirituality will recognize the deep integration of body, soul, and spirit and seeks to nurture each as distinct yet inseparable aspects of human life and wellbeing. Such a spirituality will embrace insights from modern psychology as well as wisdom handed down from historic religious traditions.
I want a spirituality that welcomes the wisdom of the ages as well as the insights gained from scientific forms of human inquiry. Various forms of inquiry have valuable contributions to make in exploring our multilevelled human experience and existence. Such a spirituality does not force one to choose between science or religion, or between reason and faith. Instead, this spirituality views these as complimentary and indeed interactive modes of human knowing.
I want a spirituality that evolves and changes as I seek to grow and develop through life. Such a spirituality will be dynamic, not static. Henri Nouwen writes that “a mature religion is integral in nature—that means that it is flexible enough to integrate all new knowledge within its frame of reference and keep pace with all the new discoveries of the human mind… Essential for mature religion is the constant willingness to shift gears, to integrate new insights, and to revise our positions.” I therefore want a spirituality that adopts a truly responsive attitude towards life, not a resistant or repressive one.
I want a spirituality that is consciously and intentionally involved in the earthiness of material life. To be human is to be formed from both the dust of the earth and the breath of the Divine. Both are integral aspects of our makeup. “The spiritual life is not a life before, after, or beyond our everyday existence,” according to Nouwen. Rather, “the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now.” Meister Eckhart’s words also strongly resonate with this insight: “Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world, or by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather … we must learn to penetrate things and find God there.” Such a spirituality is not a defence or escape against engaging with life in the here and now. It is instead a way of being in the world that involves intentionally participating in life on every level, from its surfaces to its depths.
I want a spirituality that honours and embraces the great mysteries of life, from love to suffering to evil to death and to God. Gabriel Marcel made a helpful distinction between “problems” and “mysteries” that has relevance here. A problem is something we can stand separate from, whereas a mystery is something we are necessarily involved in. Therefore we cannot adequately address evil or God as “problems” since these are realities that we are necessarily immersed and involved in. Bearing this in mind, I want a spirituality that is comfortable with seeking and not just finding, comfortable with living the questions and not just having the answers. In place of a spirituality of cliches and easy answers, I want a spirituality that is at home with mystery and not-knowing, a spirituality that appeals to the whole person—body, soul, and spirit—in the face of all the wonders and complexities of life.