Madonna in the Rose Garden, by Martin Schongauer

Why is it that spirituality is so important to me? It is hard to define really. Most people want to associate spiritual longings with religions, and certainly the two are forever intertwined. Religion still remains the main outlet for most people’s spiritual needs. The problem with religion however is the dogmatism that necessarily infuses most religions. Most followers of a religion need something to believe in, some sort of structured explanation of what God is. Without that, all religions would be nothing more than chaotic, unsustainable structures. So I can understand the importance of set beliefs for people to follow. Still, the belligerent camps that are created through different religions, each one convinced of its own unalterable truth, is often one of the greatest destructive forces the world has seen.

As I progress in life, the dogmatic teachings of a religion have become less and less important, the pure spirituality of religious experience has become more and more important. For me, the power of religious experience can be summed up in one word: prayer. Prayer does something to the soul and mind that nothing else can do, a power that is both soothing and healing and uplifting. There is a certain kind of beauty to prayer. It is a beauty different from carnal or erotic beauty, yet it is a beauty that can be as powerful, in its own unique way.

There are many forms of prayer. Perhaps many might call this meditation. Perhaps for many this is what it is. I suppose my own prayer life is sort of a meditative life. One of the things that attracts me to art and literature is the meditative nature of these pursuits. I find writing almost to be form of prayer, as it seems to often work that same part of the brain that prayer works. Often, after writing for a while, I feel the same sense of calm and peace and release that a deep session of contemplative prayer can produce. I also find studying art to be somewhat meditative, as is reading a good poem or novel. By contrast, I usually find reading more intellectually polemical things, such as political opinion pieces, or similar blog genres, to be highly agitating and mentally stressful. Although they are a necessary part of life, I try to limit my intake of them to what is essential and important, for my own sanity.

A good piece of art can wonderfully express the deeper, more mysterious aspects of life. It puts into a physical, immediate form those things that are hidden, formless, the parts of our minds, souls, and hearts that we keep locked away, protected like precious treasures. You cannot touch the spiritual, you cannot see it, except when it is aptly expressed through a painting or sculpture. I would say the same is true for a good poem, novel, or piece of music, although not in quite as immediate and concrete a way as painting or sculpture can attain. I like the piece above, The Madonna in the Rose Garden, by the German artist Martin Schongauer, (1448-1491). Although in no way sensual or erotic, it is nevertheless beautiful. I particularly enjoy the deep red of the Madonna’s dress contrasted with the golden background of the rose garden. Gardens are wonderful places, where a true peace and harmony can be found. The Japanese in particular have perfected the spirituality of gardens in a way that transcends most cultures and religions. This painting captures that, with the delicate flowers and birds entwined among the vine tendrils behind the Madonna and Child, each one gazing pensively in different directions, as if foreshadowing the suffering to come in the life of Christ. All in all it is a nice, deep expression of spiritual beauty.

Eroticism can be a spiritual experience too. I find the mass production of porn, however, to lack spiritual dimensions. Porn exists to get off on. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I often find most porn to be somewhat banal, and, in the worst examples, even ugly. Eroticism on the other hand exists to express the mysterious power of the sensual world that surrounds us, that is within us, and that guides us through love to the creation of new life on earth. The greatest physical and emotional pleasures are found and expressed through eroticism. Love is a spiritual thing. Good erotic art and literature captures something of that, at least for me. And there is deep beauty in all that.

As in the painting above, there is something simply beautiful about the scene. It is a little mysterious. It is interesting to contrast the red of her dress with the red dress of the Madonna above. She, like the Madonna, is also looking away and her thoughts are a mystery to us. Both are depictions of two very different women, yet in these depictions we sense the eternal power of the feminine, whether it be through a type of spiritual motherhood, as with the Madonna above, or erotic allurement, as with the figure below. Yet both touch upon the fundamental of our existence: love, eroticism, procreation, and eternal spiritual longings.

So there is great beauty in spirituality, whether it be the pure spirituality of religious experience, or mystical experience, be that in prayer or in some other form of meditation or even in the rituals of different religions. And there is great beauty in the power of love and sensual pleasures and the bonding of different souls through the spirituality of eroticism. Both are important for my life.