I'm reading about fourteen books on spirituality! All at the same time. Bits of this and bits of that. They often contradict each other, or they're so different that I can't see they're about the same subject at all. For example, [….]
My question is, Are there basic principles in spirituality? I don't mean religion. - I can see that religion gets complicated. But does spirituality have to be so complicated? Andrew
Thanks for your letter, and I'm sorry I have to bracket the examples you gave.
I appreciate the need for simplicity. There are countless things gathered under the name of spirituality today. In the post this morning, for example, I got promotional material for a course on "aligning one's subtle energies." How to find one's way through the maze?
(I don't want to go into the distinction between religion and spirituality; not now; it would only add further complications.)
There has always been a search for simplicity. For example, when Jesus was asked, "Which is the greatest commandment of the Law?" (Matthew 22:36) he selected just two from the many hundreds of prescriptions. Those were: Love God, and love your neighbour. Likewise the Christian Creeds are simple statements of the common faith of Christians.
But equally there is the urge to unfold and expand the implications of the faith. The simplified expression is capable of becoming rigid and closed, and it needs to be held close to lived experience if it is to remain a valid expression.
These two movements - simplification and expansion - are the way the mind works, and both are necessary.
You could truthfully say there is no such thing as spirituality! It's not a commodity, nor even a subject that can be studied, like physics. It's more like a story. There is God's Spirit and there is the human spirit, and how we are with each other is the story of spirituality. We often want to make a simple restatement of our relationship with some friend - a kind of summing up. But what would such a relationship be without all the detail? Likewise our relationship with God.
What advice can I give you, briefly? Don't be afraid of detail! But equally don't feel you have to run after it! Everyone brings his or her detail into the story; what is important is not that you follow others but that you bring yours. Be one with God and with your neighbour and enjoy the view!
But there are better expressions of it than that. One of the best is St Paul's. "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us…. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody….Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12).