The greatest misunderstanding when it comes to spirituality is that it is spiritual. Whether you spend your days checking off a task list of good deeds, chasing after a state of zen, building your daily routine around prayer and worship, or just trudging through life hoping for heaven, when our spirituality focuses on the spiritual, we miss the point. We have turned something that is a means to an end, into an end itself.
In other words, it is all too easy to hear that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and focus entirely on spirit at the expense of being human.
The Means vs. the End
What do I mean when I talk about the means and the end?
The other day, on my way home from work, I had to stop somewhere I had never been before. I plugged the address into my map app and asked for directions. Then I started up my car and followed the voice as it guided me from turn to turn. In this analogy, the address of my final destination, the app, and my car are all means. They are tools designed to help me get to the appropriate end. The end itself was me arriving at my destination and doing what I needed to do there.
Spirituality, be it meditation, reading Abundance Reconstructed, time in the wilderness, the study of sacred texts, or an honest conversation with friends, is a means to an end. The end itself is your ability to bring love into the world. It is your participation in the end that engages you in the divine creative act of helping everyone else discover they belong. Spirituality is what you need to reset your heart and mind so you can engage in hell-destroying demonstrations of dignity that bring heaven to earth.
This is what James, the brother of Jesus, means when he writes, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” If spirituality does not ultimately help the ostracized discover that their lives matter, it has missed the point.
When the Means Becomes the End
But what happens when we turn spiritual means into the end of our spirituality? I would say it moves us down the increasingly destructive path from disconnect to judgment to oppression.
Disconnect happens when we stop noticing others. This can happen for different reasons. For those in performance-based religions, empathy-stunting shame often consumes those seeking to follow moral codes. Insisting on nothing but positivity can also prompt us to ignore the negative energy of oppressive structures and those trapped in them. While these are two very different motivations, they bring about the same disconnect from those most in need. They can also set the stage for judgment.
Judgment happens when disconnect meets meritocracy. For those who are more moral or performance-based, meritocracy stirs up self-righteousness. Meritocracy can also stir up pride for the positive energy crowd as they celebrate their ability to manifest all the good they experience. This can lead to blaming the plight of those who do not have the same experience.
Oppression occurs when our judgment becomes systemic and normalized. It creates a society of spiritual classes. In more conservative streams, there is a celebration of those who excel on the performance-based religion front. In liberal streams, this glorification goes to the spiritual liberated. Ultimately, spirituality as an end creates the kind of division the Gospel seeks to destroy.
So what is a healthy spirituality’s end? Embodying the politics spirituality nurtures.
Politics and Political
It is important here to distinguish our politics and the political.
Our politics is about how humans organize as groups. It guides the decisions we make that shape our life together, be it in a family, an organization, a city, or a nation. Our politics is our wisdom. It is about making sensible and intentional decisions to create an environment in alignment with what we believe to be true.
The political on the other hand focuses specifically on governmental structures. Our politics should inform the political, and political decisions impact our politics, but they are not the same.
So if our spirituality invites a politics rooted in belonging, one where all lives matter and we all experience dignity, what kind of society does spirituality invite us to create? How might this shape our life together? For those of us who have a voice, how might it shape our political views?
Those are questions I will explore in the coming weeks.
Website: Center for Action and Contemplation
This New Mexico community founded by Jesuit Priest Richard Rohr is built around the idea of embodied spirituality. This is why they talk about both action and contemplation, and the essential interplay between the two.
Podcast: Politics is a Good Word on the Robcast with Rob Bell
Towards the front of this podcast, Rob Bell offers a deeper exploration of politics and how it is actually a good and essential thing.
Video: Justice and the White Methodist Church by Irami Osei-Frimpong
In this video The Funky Academic explores how the Methodist Church has revamped its social thought over time, moving from a spirituality that informed politics to one that is less politicized. It is the opposite of what I recommend.
What is one way you can embody your spirituality this week?
Next is the post I was originally planning on writing for this week: What might a society that demonstrates dignity and brings heaven to earth look like? Well, unless I get a post request.