Hello from the realm of dream, myth and the poetic life—the world of soul. Today I begin writing a blog for Patheos, joining other writers I admire and with whom I feel community. But I expect to retain my individuality and eccentricity, because I hope to use this space to try out my innermost farthest out ideas. I’ve called myself a Zen Catholic, and I don’t mean that superficially. My Catholicism is deep and radical, and my Zen sensitivity is deep inside me.
I also incline toward Sufism. I never stop telling the great Nasrudin stories and I appreciate the dancing monkish mystical approach to practice. I first encountered Sufism in Huston Smith’s film about them after being a student of Huston’s at Syracuse University. My heart danced.
I also value my Jewish models of spiritual wisdom teachers, Rabbis Harold Kushner, Lawrence Kushner and only by the written word, Abraham Heschel, the kabballah, the midrash, the great Jewish storytellers. I appreciate how difficult it is to sort the secular from the holy in many Jewish stories, as well as the seriousness from the humor.
I’m especially nourished by anonymous mystics, secular novelists and short story writers and poets and essayists who take us to the far reaches of human possibility. Emily Dickinson is one of America’s most profound spiritual writers, as were her neighbors, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Margaret Fuller.
Filmmakers and photographers have also helped us glimpse the mystery hiding in the ordinary, and so as a theologian of the world I celebrate Jim Jarmusch, Stanley Kubrick, and Julie Taymor. The Rothko Chapel in Houston is one of the sacred places in the land, and I honor the great spider sculptures of Louise Bourgeois as I might a Native American totem animal. I try to keep my eye on the sky, one of the portals where you can glimpse the mysteries taking place at the borders of awareness.I don’t go to church much, except when I’m giving a sermon or participating in a ritual, but, like Henry David Thoreau, I find my sacraments in the small rituals of everyday life: breakfast with my wife, a walk with my family, the therapy hours I do mainly on the phone or at some visual electronic medium. If spirituality isn’t an everyday, common occurence it probably lacks the necessary interiority. My ideal is to have my spirituality baked into my ordinary life, invisible but very much in play.
When I first published Care of the Soul twenty-five years ago, I was asked to narrate a series of films on everyday spirituality. Ever since, I have been exploring that theme in small detail, to the point where I now find spirituality almost entirely within things and only rarely separate from daily life.
I follow the simple but intriguing sentiment expressed by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he sat in a prison waiting for his execution under the Nazis in 1944: “The world that has come of age is more godless, and perhaps for that very reason nearer to God, than the world before its coming of age.” There is a way in which our godlessness does clear the slate and allow a new religiousness, but we face the danger of not finding the new spirituality, as a dominating science and silent secularism steal our souls.
In all my work I add the deep soul—intimacy with family, beloved partners, animals, cherished places, friends and pieces of art—to the lofty spirit. Care of the soul gives a base to adventures in spirit. As the ancients said, it makes us human, while the spirit sends us off into wondrous worlds. We need to move in both directions at once.
These, then, are my guidelines as I write these posts and engage you as a new friend. By the way, I learn from the Gospels to use friendship at all its levels as the basis for interactions. I write from a beating heart and a fully engaged mind, aiming for words that are neither too heady nor too emotional. I hope to show you some of the portals to the holy that I have discovered in my life and in my studies, and I’d like to portray as well as I can how to live a life that is teeming with both soul and spirit.
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