Who knows for certain why old, random memories push forward into our waking consciousness, when we so often struggle to remember details of things happening right in front of us. I had this experience while walking with my dog Timmy just a few days ago. We were out late in a windy, wet twilight walking down the tree-lined street where a grad student friend of mine had lived decades ago. She has since passed away, far too young, but in that moment all I could remember was the day she told me she had chosen her wedding dress and was paying for it in installments on lay-away at Nordstrom. She was in a committed relationship, so the idea of marriage wasn’t so far-fetched. Yet, as time passed, they never married, ultimately went their separate ways, and I don’t know what became of the dress. This story is a metaphor for me for the spiritual journey. What happens to our growing spirituality when we set our energy and intentions on the future and invest in a specific outcome? I wonder, if perhaps, the “Christmas club” approach might serve us better as seekers.
For those too young to remember, and long before credit cards were so ubiquitous, in the fifties and early sixties, “lay away” and “Christmas clubs” were popular ways to pay in installments for things one hoped to have in the future. Lay-away in department stores allowed one to pay bit by bit monthly for a particular article of clothing, household item, etc. One had to be sure that what was selected would be equally pleasing six or twelve months later, which was the amount of time it would take to pay for it in full and take possession. By contrast, Christmas clubs allowed one to set aside a small portion of salary each week, so that when Christmas did arrive, one had the necessary “nest egg” to cover holiday costs. The amount set aside weekly grew silently and was small enough to be almost “painless,” yet the accrual of cash after 52 weeks was a magical treasure indeed.
In a practical sense, saving for designated necessities makes perfect sense. In a spiritual sense, I’m not so sure. My concerns have mainly to do with the fact that our spiritual paths are unique to each of us. Joseph Campbell put it so well when he said,
“You enter the forest at the darkest point where there is no path.
Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path.”
What we learn from our families and culture are the composite of the experiences of others, and what they have gleaned from walking their paths. While these insights are very useful as a starting point, they are never completely definitive in one’s particular situation. The human journey, the hero’s quest, is to discover one’s uniqueness as a manifestation of divinity. As Fr. Seán ÓLaoire is fond of reminding us in his teaching, we are each “bite-sized pieces of God.” When we come to comprehend the divinity in ourselves, we become capable of seeing the divinity in all others. It is only then that we can experience oneness with all that is.
Hiking in the mountains and forests, we cannot see beyond the next turn. We are in Nature’s hands, so to speak. So, also on the spiritual journey, we are in God’s hands. All She asks of us is openness to possibilities, a pure intention, open eyes and a willing heart. We cannot truly know what we have not yet experienced, so how can we possibly anticipate what we will need beyond the next stand of trees, or somewhere down the line in the future?
What does “Christmas club spirituality” look like?
What we think, do and say each day matters as we build our spiritual “nest egg.” Some of our thoughts, words, and actions act as withdrawals, others as deposits. There are some practices we can engage in, supports we can seek, that will insure that we are making more deposits than withdrawals. All of these require that we set aside time to hear God speaking to us.The basic, enduring spiritual practice is to become comfortable with silence – silence in prayer, silence in meditation, silence in Nature. God speaks to us in the silence. We cannot possible hear God when we are always talking, asking for things, bargaining, strategizing for the future, and/or ruminating about the past. Some of this we will inevitably do in “conversation” with God, but we must give God a turn.
A second practice is to spend time with those who support who you are becoming, those who come to deeply care that you reach your spiritual potential. It is likely that these spiritual friends are likewise getting comfortable with silence.
Thirdly, find your “community.” Meet weekly for time together over good books, prayer, liturgies/rituals, dance, movies, volunteer work, walking/hiking, or cooking together, etc. Bring your evolving consciousness to those endeavors, and take/raise those experiences to the “next level,” based on kindness, honesty and compassion.
Fourthly, be present, authentic and accountable with your friends. You are all radical mountain climbers carrying the necessary and much needed “belaying gear” for each other.
These are four ways of making sure your “weekly deposit” happens. Your “spiritual nest egg” grows silently and provides a safety net beneath you, and by extension, beneath your community of like-committed souls. As these relationships grow deeper and stronger, you engage more and more in actions that continue to awaken and expand your consciousness into all areas of your life. This divine connection and sharing in community makes spiritual surrender to the experiences of life much more likely and possible.
Ram Dass in his famous quote and book title “Be Here Now” illustrates the optimum state of mind for our journey through the forest. Actually, I find it not at all trivial to accomplish this simple instruction – to be here now. Our time spent in silence and our relationships in community teach us to be present. There is always someone in our spiritual community who is grounded and holding/honoring the present, even if at that moment we are not. At other times, we are the ones holding/honoring the present for others. We are at all times either giving or receiving support on our spiritual journey.
Ram Dass goes on to say, “The next message you need is always right where you are.” The present moment is pregnant with our next step. How do we give birth to it? The spiritual path is in a constant state of revelation and grace. And we are more sure-footed when we walk it together in compassion. In no way, can we infer, even from our past experiences, the precise way in which our spiritual lives will unfold, until we surrender to spirit and become “good listeners,” to the God within and to the God revealing herself through others.
It is easy in our “noisy” world to be consumed by the desire to establish order in our lives, both practically and spiritually, to settle on answers and plans. Yet, I believe that the essence of true spirituality has more to do with surrendering to mystery, allowing life to unfold step-by-step. Despite the ego’s urge to the contrary, we do not need to know where we are going spiritually. The poet/mystic Mary Oliver reminds us,
“Sometimes I only need to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”
We need only be truly, authentically present where we are. Otherwise, I fear that our “spiritual closets” are destined to be filled with unworn wedding dresses.