Saturday, November 26, 2005

Forms of Spirituality

There are advantages and disadvantages to our current practice of talking about "spirituality" without reference to the Holy Spirit. In the Christian Tradition the spiritual life or spirituality meant living according to the life of the Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the Third person of the Trinity. In that sense it was not vague human longings for the religious seperated from Religious institutions.

The advantage is that it can give Christians and the Church the opportunity to offer names for the human longings and desires categorized under the title of "spirituality" naming the source of all true "spirituality." The disadvantage is that both among Christians as well as in our general culture, "spiritual" is confused with general psychological wellbeing or confirmation in our own solipsistic psyches. Spirituality then becomes self-confirming exercises which measure growth in terms of individual development of ones tastes longings and desires. In this sense while "spirituality" might be spoken of in terms of encounter with the other, it is in fact a projection of ones own psyche on the other.(Admitedly this is not new accusation claim, it is what Leudwig Fauerbach claimed for all Religion, Christianity in particular: Religion God Spirit are simply human psychology writ large on the heavens, see The Essence of Christianity.)

Such a "spirituality" is relatively harmless when it is a highly individualistic pursuit which does not seek communal confirmation and reafirmation of its individual "spiritual" tastes by a particular group. Though when this spirituality is mistaken for encounter with the Other, rather than seen as a projection of ones spiritual tastes on the Other, one mistakes oneself for God (Live has a great song about this Where Fishes Go on their The Distance to Here album). This understanding of the spiritual is dangerous for the individual but it can also be open to genuine encounter if one recognizes that this "spirituality" can only take one to the edges of oneself but never into true encounter with the sacred holy and spiritual.

The more dangerous and pernicious form of this "spirituality" is the more complex version of it that both emphasizes ones own individual spirituality as encounter with the Other, but then seeks to confirm and reafirm this projection of the psyche on the Other through a group of individuals with the same or analogous spiritual tastes. In this instance a portion of ones psyche is divided from ones self and given the name God, Christ, Spirit, divine consciousness, etc. While the first manifestation of this solipsistic "spirituality" will tend to recognize that individual taste plays a large role in the attempted encounter with the other (while possibly denying the projection that underlies this reification of individual preference and taste) this second manifestation recognizes no distance between normal operations of ones psyche and the movements of the Spirit, or divine consciousness.

There are the humble or egotistical justifications of this spirituality. The egotistical simply claims that in some way ones own consciousness (through some spiritual practice or meditation) is (or has become) divine without separation or distinction. The humble form of this claims that one's own self-reflection is of little import compared to the revelations one can recieve from God if one has such an intimacy with God that ones thought life is a constant and immidiate conversation with God. The effect is the same: psychological operations that are possible for everyone in the process of self-reflection become reified as the Words of God.

The Christian tradition is sceptical about these sorts of "spiritualities" on two counts: first it is their hyper individualism (even when found in the group form) second is the denial of the distance between creator and created which according tot the Tradtion is never erased but only transformed through the incarnation and theosis. The Christian tradtion does not deny the psychological powers of the human nor does it seek to deny the infinite distance between creature and created. What is affirmed is that God always intended as infinitely other than ourselves to have a relationship with us, and union with us God's creatures, and that the distance that was bridged between humanity and God in Jesus Christ through the incarnation wasn't only that of sin but but that of creature and Creator becuase the infinitely other became united with creation and spcificaly humanity. Union, Spirituality, according to Christian teaching, assumes both distance and intimacy. Only in the encounter with an otherness that is beyond human comprehension and yet is closer than I am to myself can there be true spirituality that isn't simply my psyche writ large. I can never be certain that my own thoughts are the thoughts of God, but in Christ I seek to have no other mind than that of Christ who is God; the Other with whom I will become one yet never be.


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