The Need for a Spiritual Life

Jesus at prayer in the Garden of GethsemaniImage via WikipediaThe Need for a Spiritual Life
I have been emphasizing the soul’s need for a vernacular life – Its relationship to a local place and culture.  It has a preference for details and particulars, intimacy and involvement, attachment and rootedness.  Like a animal, the soul feeds on whatever life grows in its immediate environment.  To the soul, the ordinary is sacred and the primary source of religion.  But there is another side to this issue.  The soul also needs spirituality, and as Ficino advises, a particular kind of spirituality: one that is not at odds with the everyday and the lowly.
In the modern world we tend to separate psychology from religion.  We like to think that emotional problems have to do with the family, childhood, and trauma – with personal life but not with spirituality.  We don’t diagnose an emotional seizure as “loss of religious sensibility” or “{lack of spiritual awareness.”  Yet it is obvious that the soul, seat of the deepest emotions, can benefit greatly from the gifts of a vivid spiritual life and can suffer when it is deprived of them.  The soul, for example, needs an articulated world view, a carefully worked out scheme of values, and a sense of relatedness to9 the whole.  It needs a spiritual life of immortality and an attitude toward death.  It also thrives on spirituality that is not so9 transcendent, such as the spirit of family, arising from traditions and values that have been part of the family for generations.
Spirituality doesn’t arrive fully formed without effort.  Religions around the world demonstrate that spiritual life requires constant attention and a subtle, often beautiful technology by which spiritual principles and understandings are kept alive.  For good reason we go to church, regularly and at appointed times: it’s easy for consciousness to become lodged in the material  world and to forget the spiritual.  Sacred technology is largely aimed at helping us remain conscious of spiritual ideas and values.
One of the main problems of the modern world: is our means of connecting to our inner world does no9t reach deep enough.  We feel the need of a more genuine means of bringing outer experience deep inside us.
Just as the mind digests ideas and produces intelligence, the soul feeds on life and digests it, creating wisdom and character out of the fodder of experience.  Renaissance Neoplatonists said that the outer world serves as a means of deep spirituality and that  the transformation of ordinary experience into the stuff of soul is all important.  If the link between life experience and deep spirituality is inadequate, then we are left with a division between life and soul, and such a division will always manifest itself in symptoms.
In many religions, food is a powerful metaphor.  Communion, union with divinity, is accomplished by means of food.  Taking food into the body is a ritual way of absorbing God into oneself.  All eati8ng is communion, feeding the soul as well as the body.  Our cultural habit of eating “fast food” reflects our current belief that all we need to take into ourselves, both literally and figuratively, is plain food, not food of real substance and not the spirituality of real dining.  In another, less literal sphere, we appropriate information in “sound bites,” another food image, instead of taking life in, digesting it, and making it part of us.  Most of our science, physical and social, operates as if there were no interior life, or at least assumes that the interior life has little or nothing to do with the outside world.  If the interior life is acknowledged, it is considered secondary, something to tend to once we have taken care of the real concerns of business or daily life.
Retreat from the Modern World
In the past, people concerned with soul often dealt with these problems of the modern world, which to some degree have long been with us, by seeking out a place of retreat.  If an emotional problem Presents itself, the real issue may not be some single trauma or troubled relationship.  Maybe the issue is a life set up0 in such a way that soul is neglected habitually.  Problems are part of every human life, and they do not necessarily wither the soul.  The soul suffers more from the everyday conditions of life when they do not nourish it with the spiritual experiences it craves.
Care of the soul asks us to observe its needs continually, to give them our wholehearted attention.  Imagine advising someone with many signs of neglect of soul to build an annex on his house for soul work.  It may seem strange or even crazy to do something so expensive and so9 external to deal with our psychological complaints.  Yet it is obvious that soul is not going to be healed solely by means of one hour of interior retreat in the midst of an active modern life.  Our retreat from the world may have to be more serious and more constantly present in our lives than a weekly counseling visit, church service, or an occasional camping trip.
Getting away from the world has always been part of the spiritual life.  Monks secluded themselves in monasteries, ascetics went into the desert, Native American initiates go off on a vision quest.  I am not recommending going off to a monastery as a way of dealing with the modernist syndrome that so seriously threatens the life of  the soul.  Retreat itself can either be soulful or escapist.  Some concrete, physical expression of retreat, however, could be the beginning of a spiritual life that would nourish the soul.  It could take the modest form of a drawer where dreams and thoughts are kept.  It could consist of five minutes in the morning dedicated to reading the Bible or to reflect on a Bible verse.  It might be the decision to take a walk through the woods instead of touring the shopping mall.  It might be keeping the television oo, so that watching it becomes a special occasion.  It could be a donation that helps focus attention on spirituality.  People participate in small groups that discuss spiritual topics.
These are modest forms of retreat that serve the spiritual needs of the soul.  Spirituality need not be grandiose in its ceremonials.  Indeed, the soul might benefit most when its spiritual life is performed in the context it favors – ordinary daily vernacular life.  But spirituality does demand attention, mindfulness, regularity, and devotion.  It asks for some small measure of withdrawal from a world set up to ignore soul.
Socially we could also recognize the value of retreat in a public way.  Parks and gardens could be protected at all costs by a city sensitive to the need of the soul for retreat.  Public buildings could have places where workers and visitors could retreat momentarily as part of their care of soul.  It was said that in the war Vietnamese refugees abandoned their homes with nothing in their hands but their little shrines.  We could easily give more attention to the objects that focus our spirituality and keep it constant.  But nothing we do along these lines will be meaningful unless we value soulfulness for its own sake.

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About georgehach

I am a retired Lay Minister, acting as a prophet for God to understand the end times that is comingg and how to prepare for it.
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