Thursday, December 14, 2006

Is spirituality found in responsibility?

Garrison Keillor's reference to Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility in Lake Wobegon captures the feeling I had growing up. There was a Lady of Perpetual Responsibility that held great influence over what we should and shouldn't be doing. In her view life was a constant struggle against the evils of the world and we were responsible in every and act and word for the salvation of those we came in contact with. Even one careless word or deed could have terrible eternal consequences.

Since I didn't want to be held responsible for terrible eternal consequences I either didn't do anything at all or I denied the careless word or deed. And when the word or deed didn't fall in the careless category, but the premeditated one, there was no way out.

This type of responsibility was seen as the good fight of faith. I think, in my practice of it, it was the flight from shame. Ironically enough the thing that gave me relief was taking responsibility. When I said, "You know what, I did that." there was a great sense of relief. No more secrets, no more hiding. In the words of Popeye, "I am what I am."

So maybe there is a spiritual experience in taking responsibility and giving myself permission to join the human race.

2 comments:

J. Christopher Potts said...

I wonder if you aren't confusing religiosity with sprituality. Religiosity is the state of extreme (perhaps even debilitating) religious ardor, of excessive or affected piety. The kinds of 'sprirituality' and 'spiritual' experiences you describe are more concerned with external appearance and judgement than with an internal, personal process of transcendance, of connecting to and coming to know one's higher self, and through that a higher power if such exists. Dogmatic adherence to set or ritualistic orthodoxy can never be a substitute for this personal process or spirituality since it exchanges individual choice for rigid adherence to external codes of behavior and subsumes personal integrity to the "greater good" of the larger community of 'believers'. Actions performed out of fear are never a matter of free choice (personal responsibility?) and even secular law allows coersion and brainwashing as a defense. Unfortunately, the dominant religions, especially the more belicose fundamentalist splinter groups, have long relied on coersive fear to keep their members in line.

Spirituality, must involve an element of personal choice (responsibility) to have any meaning beyond a knee-jerk reaction. Perforce, it must entail exploration or consideration of:
* Meaning – significance of life; making sense of situations; deriving purpose.

* Values – beliefs, standards and ethics that one cherishes.

* Transcendence – experience, awareness, and appreciation of a "transcendent dimension" to life beyond self.

* Connecting – increased awareness of a connection with self, others, God/Spirit/Divine, and nature/Nature.

* Becoming – an unfolding of life that demands reflection and experience; including a sense of who one is and how one knows.

Considering this list, it is clear that the major religions fall far short on several points, and their more dogmatic, exclusionary, fundamentalist factions fare even worse. Religiosity yes, but hardly spirituality on any but the most superficial level. I seriously doubt those youths standing on the corner demonstrating against who knows what, had any better idea of who they were, who their god was/is, how their actions reflected or amplified any sense of values or ethics, or helped them derive any clearer understanding of the significance of life or even their own purpose in this life.

Richard Harty said...

Very well said. Thanks for your comment!