(May 29 was the 60th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s reaching the summit of Mt. Everest, seen in the photo above. He was first man ever to do so–and live. For some strange reason this got me thinking a lot about spiritual matters, hence my recent analogies between mountains and spirituality).
I find it strange in what different directions we often find ourselves swerving. For me, the pendulum always swings either in the direction of sexual desires or spiritual desires. I thought that long ago I would have settled this issue, found some sort of happy medium between these two poles, but that has not been the case. I try to find a balance; but a balance is often as elusive and transitory as a fleeting wind.
Recently my being has been hungering, deeply hungering, for spiritual nourishment. As I have written here, my faith in religion has been shaken over the past year or so: too many scandals, too much hypocrisy, too much anger and hatred within certain religious circles has dampened my desire for a spiritual life. Or so I thought.
No, despite my constant questioning and disputations, despite my deep doubts about certain official theological and doctrinal teachings regarding human sexuality, despite my disgust at the actions of certain groups who claim to be the sole arbiters of spiritual knowledge and understanding, but who seem so filled with anger, hatred and bitterness, I still find myself in deep need of union with the Divine. (Sometimes I refer to God or religious belief as “the Divine”, simply so that I do not fall too strictly into one religious camp or another. I prefer discussing these things with as broad a stroke as possible.)
What is this strange thing that plagues us, the desire for religious and spiritual nourishment? It is universal to all mankind. Throughout all of history, in all places and cultures, people have shown a remarkable longing to express themselves religiously. From the most primitive to the most advanced societies, religion and spirituality have been and continue to be a complex and integral part of our world. Some may say it is simply a coping mechanism that we humans have developed; since we are the only creatures on the earth that are cognizant of our own mortality. Religion and spiritual practices may have developed as a means for us to create some sort of internal and external order to our otherwise rather chaotic and unpredictable universe. Perhaps we would all go mad without religion and spirituality?
Yet if that were the case then it would be difficult to explain why such a simple thing as prayer or meditation has an actual, concrete and positive effect on the mind and soul. Even if one does not believe in the soul or God, we cannot deny the positive power of prayer and meditation in our lives. There is not a single doctor, scientist or psychiatrist who would deny the positive effects of prayer and meditation for individual psyches and even physical health; indeed, I can speak of this myself. I know that when I lead a life which is more prayerful, I am more happy and productive; when I am distant from prayer, then my life becomes more difficult, less happy and harder to manage.
Is prayer therefore simply a biological evolution for our minds to cope with our difficult environment? Perhaps. I however would like to think of prayer as something more, as the actual communication, the union, of our beings with God, with the Divine. I believe prayer is one of God’s gifts of communication with us, a means we have of reaching beyond our drab and difficult everyday lives and touching the eternal, brilliant beauty of celestial love. Prayer and meditation and contemplation have as concrete an effect on my life and my being as eating, sleeping, or exercising. If I were miss one of those, my mind and body would suffer very quickly. The same is true with prayer: when I begin to slack off from a prayer life, which is quite often, I quickly begin to feel the effects on my being. It is not as easily demonstrable as the effects of lack of food or sleep; but it is just as real.
Mysticism is a part of all religious and spiritual traditions. I do not claim to be a mystic, far from it. I do desire however to achieve some sort of mystic union with the Divine; to fill my soul and life with the light of love and goodness and heavenly desire; to feel a closeness to God, to know his presence in my life and in the world around me, and to lead a life in conformity with all the understanding that God may see fit to impart to me. And yet even though I have been deeply religious for many decades now; I am still a child in all this, a novice full of ignorance and confusion in the face of my ascent of Divine understanding. My last post referenced Mt. Everest; and indeed, faith is often like a mountain; something we desire to approach, climb and explore, from whose summit we may see a wonderful view of our world we have never seen before; but the difficulty of climbing such an imposing and even terrifying creation often hinders us from taking that first step. Faith for me is often like that: something I desire to explore; yet an imposing mass which I am often hesitant to explore.
Perhaps, like some mystic venturing off into the abyss of an unknown land, I simply need to see where the ascent of the spiritual mountain will lead me. After all, there is much beauty in such union with the Divine.