The Spirit of Spirits
The word Pentecost has nothing to do with religion or spirits or even spirituality. As I have mentioned before, I use the Christian calendar as an organizational tool. It is not a subliminal message at all. I will again make note that I do not believe there is a huge divide between spirituality and religion, though. Pentecost means “fifty” and falls fifty days after another Christian holiday, hence the reason for the naming as such.
I think spending time on the mythologies of our world serves two purposes. First, it is our history. Yes, I said OUR history. To try to separate the history of one culture from another is not wise, in my humble opinion. The world is a vast combination of water and land but the characteristics of mankind traveled quickly and cultures shows signs of intermingling. It was once thought that the culture known as the American Indian traveled across glaciers from Northern Asia to Alaska and Canada before settling in all parts of North, Central, and South America. Similarities between ancient Viking lifestyle and stories and those of the earliest of North American Indians were thought to be just coincidences until DNA testing of descendants of the early Algonquian Nation tribes revealed the two cultures had indeed intermingled in the early first and second centuries.
The mythologies of the Bronze Age man laid the foundation for our belief systems today. These are not simple fictionalized stories with which people were entertained. These were the outlines for how mankind lived, worked, and interacted with the internal and external spirit of all living things. In some ways we have come very far but in other ways, we are still in the infancy of interacting one with another. If you doubt this, just remember more mass graves are being found every day, evidence of the misuse of spiritual belief, religious zeal, and available weaponry.
Learning about such things, though is just the first step. At this point I am inserting an article I co-authored which first ran on the website, www.episcopalcafe.com.
During my Education for Ministry (EfM) journey, the subject of the “Spirituality versus Religion” meme was discussed. In examining this, I was reminded of a parish I attended. The parish had a thriving youth program. Older adults congregated at the church as if it was a social club but it was lacking in something for young adults often called millenials and/or Generation “Y”. They said that “millenials” did not attend church but, after much persistence, they finally began a new young adult class. It was suggested the class take over the “prime” classroom and have a coffeehouse theme. Metal chairs and long tables were relegated to storage closets, replaced by upholstered chairs, lamps, a rug from the attic, etc. The posters and mailers announcing the class were loved by the millenials and deemed “garish” by vestry members, who stood outside the classroom, counting the people who came. One week later, they stood outside that same door, awaiting the Bishop and insisting the class stay to “account” for the change in the décor. When the Bishop arrived, he asked to see the room and then smiled: “I think John the Baptist would feel right at home here” he said.
The millenials of today and Generation “Y” live and breathe in part according to meme theory. Many theologians blame it for the decline in their effectiveness. What is “meme theory” and from where did it originate? According to Wikipedia, a go-to reference for all millenials, a meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The word is an abbreviation of the word memetic, a theory of mental evolution based upon the work of Charles Darwin, coined by British evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins. Opposing the religious culture, which most assuredly could be said to be based upon a meme, the term has become the battle cry of atheists who ironically, in their attempt to be different, have formed their own communion.
The coffeehouse feel was on target in developing the spirituality of the young adult meeting room and created an environment that drew people in and allowed for a “safe” exchange of ideas. They had cappuccino mix for the coffee pot, tea, hot cocoa, doughnuts and communion. Class “lessons” included a scientific flowchart for the Summary of the Law. Sadly that vision was blinded by the status quo. The class became more “conventional, more religious” and within three months no one was present. Once enrollment numbered fifty-five; it became zero.
What we can learn from this is that we must address spirituality if we want to engage our young adults, our future. They know more of Ziglar’s pump parable than Jesus’ lost coin parable. We have got to have the vision to allow the former in order to discuss the latter. Today’s young adult is not content with following blindly but wants to engage his/her spirit – fully and completely. We exactly is this “spirituality versus religion” concept?
Spiritual Healer Nancy Kern explains it this way: “Spirituality is a direct experience of God, by whatever name: Source, Spirit, the Light, All That Is, Allah, Shiva, Jesus. Religion is learned, passed on through families and cultural institutions, including churches. Religion is built around form, characterized by dogma, ritual and social interaction. Religious organizations are built around spiritual values, and also encompass politics, fund-raising and identity built on beliefs and practices.
“Spirituality involves a direct experience of grace through a bodily knowing; no intermediary is required, no particular beliefs are necessary. The ego cannot manage spiritual experiences or make them happen. Spiritual experiences range from beautiful to frightening, and may contradict religious and scientific beliefs. Both religion and spirituality can involve prayer, contemplation and/or meditation. Both can be positive forces of healing from emotional and physical distress. Spirituality can be encouraged through sensitivity to nature and the cultivation of awareness, gratitude and loving kindness. Religion can encourage and foster spirituality, but does not necessarily do so.”
Kern adds: “Mysticism is spiritual. Mystics from all religious backgrounds see connection between traditions rather than separation. This is because mystics cultivate direct experience of oneness with all of creation. Creativity is innately spiritual. All people are innately spiritual. Religion must be learned. Spirituality is a formless realm of limitless possibilities. Religion limits possibilities through beliefs and taboos. Spirituality may contradict or reinforce religious teachings. Although beliefs in Hell begin as religious teachings, when internalized, they become spiritual fears.”
If we continue to make enemies of spirituality and religion, then we are looking at the future with very poor vision. Today’s young adults live passionately and want a passionate faith. Religion should be a living entity that embraces and uses their spirituality. We must let faith breathe, embracing that which emboldens our spirit to receive the Holy Spirit.
The things written about in this article are important, I believe, and applicable to all denominations, religious systems, and spiritual practices. My co-author and I, though we grew up in the same location, are examples of different believers working together. I am a professional musician and conductor, writer, graphic artist, community family values educator and child advocate, a lifelong Episcopalian who has served as Girls Friendly leader, EYC advisor, church school director/teacher, ECW officer, church musician, EfM graduate, and member of the Order of Daughters of the King. I host this blog, n2myhead. My co-author is a professional artist and writer, former midwife, licensed massage therapist, Cranial Sacral Therapist, Flower Essence Practitioner, trained in Buddhist meditation, Native American shamanism, Akashic Field therapy, guided imagery and counseling. She can be reached at her website.
I hope this blog is a conversation. I do not claim to be an expert on any of the topics I discuss. I am a traveler, exploring different aspects of life in an attempt to learn how to better live and to live in a respectful, peaceful, productive manner. I eagerly look forward to your comments. They are the spirit that drives me. These conversations are the purpose for this blog. Some of my conversations are within my own head, hence the title of this blog. The conversations we have with ourselves can be the most productive. They are the spirit that leads us on to our future.
Tomorrow we will continue to discuss both mythologies of the past but also those we are writing today. As we live, we compose our own life story, create our own present and future, portray the beliefs we hold dear. I do not believe that our beliefs are limiting and I completely believe that religion has possibilities for a brighter future. Religion affords an outline for living but such only has value when it includes respect for all living things. A religion that allows hatred is not, in my opinion, a religion but a systematic living of fear.
The spirit of life is alive and so our present-day myths must, as mentioned in the article, be free to breathe. In his book “The Miracle of Mindfulness”, Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” Unfortunately, many people have used spirituality and religion as a basis for garnering power. Writer Jose N. Harris explains the danger of such. ““There is beauty in truth, even if it’s painful. Those who lie, twist life so that it looks tasty to the lazy, brilliant to the ignorant, and powerful to the weak. But lies only strengthen our defects. They don’t teach anything, help anything, fix anything or cure anything. Nor do they develop one’s character, one’s mind, one’s heart or one’s soul.”
The importance we can learn from ancient mythologies is where we have been, what we feared, and what we overcame. Moving forward takes courage and it take a hardy spirit. As the poet e. e. cummings wrote, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” That is the real purpose of our ancient mythologies – celebrating the human spirit. We have potential as long as we breathe and respect our own spirit.