What is the Spiritual Life? A Brief Meditation

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I look at myself and at others and I see some common realities. I believe we have divided hearts. That is we are pulled in multiple directions at the same time. And the consequences of this pulling and our many forced choices, most of which made from this sense of division leads to hurt for ourselves and for those whom we love.

I believe the call of the spiritual life is a call to something hard, and to something necessary. It is about the healing of these wounds, it is about the reconciliation of our lives and the life of this planet, it is in fact about the reconciliation of heaven and earth. It is, at least for me, the most important thing.

​And so, when I think of the spiritual life, I think about that word “hero” in ways it hasn’t been used much of late. According to the online version of Merriam-Webster, a hero is, in its first definition, “a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities.” The dictionary throws in as secondary definitions “someone who is greatly admired” and the “chief male character” in a play or story. The historic part references the older use of divine or semi divine figures in Greek and Roman mythology.

Running through all the usages over time is a focus on personal traits, those fine or noble qualities. And it is that which captures my imagination. Particularly, as I consider how the word “athlete” was used by early Christian ascetics to describe practitioners of their spiritual discipline. I’ve always liked that usage, coming as it does somehow slightly from left field.

And then there’s the way of the spiritual life. It turns on various disciplines of presence, both to our environment and within our beings. I have come to summarize these practices as “sitting down, shutting up, and paying attention.” This is not an easy thing to do. I believe anyone who tries this “turning the light inward” as one sage put it, for any sustained time knows that sustaining it can be extremely difficult.

Also, we find many obstacles along the way, we encounter such things as the noontime devil, and we may tumble into a dark night of the soul. There are traps and snares for the unwary every step of the way, and even keeping on our toes, the path can be hard, and it lasts a lifetime.

Here’s where heroic comes in. An authentic spiritual life takes discipline and perseverance. It is definitely counter-cultural. In fact the spiritual life is about as counter-cultural as can be. It demands a constant presence, to finding the deepest currents of our lives within a culture that is pretty much all about distraction.

A genuine spiritual life is heroic in the sense of those qualities of nobility and perseverance that move us out of the ordinary. And yet, at the very same time, the spiritual life is something accessible to all of us. Sort of an ordinary heroism. Finding the extraordinary within the ordinary. This is our call as people on the way of heart and authenticity.

The spiritual life, as I understand it, is concerned with the salvation of the ordinary, of the saving grace of presence, of the transformative power of the here and now. Nothing less.