Sometimes spirituality can be just too serious for me. You get the people on the spiritual right complain how sex and music are going to be the downfall of humankind and then the left constantly mirroring the social ills that seem to destroy the fabric of society. I walk away from this needing a vacation, and understanding why most people don't want to be bothered with all the spiritual hype unless it's Christmas or Hanukkah.
You can't pretend there isn't a lot of dark stuff in this world. All you have to do is turn on the TV and you can see all the dark side of humanity that you want. But maybe it's just me, but why does God always have to be such a serious subject? Frankly, I just get tired wondering about virtues and changing the state of my soul so it will be ready for the afterlife. Having to think constantly about all the homeless people and war-torn places in the world and all I can do with my privilege to help them is exhausting. Didn't the god of the Bible take a break, last I checked?
There is always something that is askew, something that is broken. If you are inclined to mend the world, keep in mind, it will never be fixed. I know this. But that doesn't stop me from letting the ills of mankind crop up when I try to relax. I'm watching a baseball game, and think of all the Amnesty International letters I haven't written yet. Or I'm drinking a cup of coffee at a cafe, and overhear someone at another table talking about how they don't understand this God thing, that people should just think for themselves. I remember my days from fundamentalist churches and hear a voice chastising me for not going over and saying to the poor dude or dudette "Have you heard about Jesus?". Go over and save their souls
, says this voice. You may be the only Bible they ever hear
. Give me a break, I reply. They are of age. They are American. They are sitting in an establishment on a street that has twenty churches in a three block radius. And barring those parameters, as kids they probably heard Jesus' name enough as an expletive to have gotten curious and at least looked him up in the dictionary. Besides, I'm drinking a latte. But their souls, they are lost-
I started going to fundamentalist churches in my college years, and left them only two years later, not because I didn't believe in the Bible or was decided that humanism was the better way or because someone abused me. I just got really tired. I got tired of assuming I was better than people because I uttered some magic words in the Bible that counted me amongst the saved. I got tired of looking to manipulate every conversation I had with people to look for a way to talk about Jesus, while in the meantime I wasn't even listening to what the other person was saying. It was like they were bodies to recruit, not real people of flesh and blood with their own concerns and their own needs. Jesus got to be a bit of a drag, too. He became more a mantra than the living being he was supposed to be. "WWJD" statements felt more like mommy chastising a seven year old girl than a person trying to develop a spiritual life. So I stopped going.
In the ensuing years, my pietist indoctrination dwindled away, to be replaced by what is more commonly known as the social gospel. Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, write Fidel Castro an Amnesty letter to stop paramilitary from "disappearing" people. This approach had a more real feel for me. It felt like I was connecting with people rather than perching down from a loft to the masses. After all, the homeless man could be me. I might run out of money and need to use a food pantry. And governments being what they are, anyone could wind up being subjugated at some point in their lives. Anyone of those people could be me one day.
But of course, changing perspective on my spirituality didn't make it seem any less weighty. It didn't take away my empathy with the mythic Atlas holding the weight of the world his shoulders. The darkness of the world is a burden to behold, which is why many people just give up, call the whole thing hopeless, and hope they have just enough money to send their kids to college, pay the mortgage, and survive retirement. At least they can do something tangible about that. Poverty, racism, and crime are such magnanimous issues that it seems impossible to deal with. Sometimes it seems easier to go back to the fundamentalist way; just add a sprinkle of Jesus, and get instant load of happiness baked to perfection.
Looking for goodness in the darkness can be a strong challenge. It is easier sometimes to just write off the whole thing as hopeless, whether through the indifference of what is going on, or to sit on some high perch and declare the masses hopeless because they don't have the truth that you accepted. Joy seems too pollyanic and false, especially after reading the newspaper. But the New Testament seems to promise joy for all followers. In the Gospel of John, as Jesus gives his last speech before he is arrested, he prays to God that they may have divine joy (John 17:13) and tells the apostles that if they remain in the commandments of love, that his joy will remain in them (John 15:11).
It seems like a good idea, to love instead of hate, at least in theory. Hate consumes you while love without attachments can seem liberating. That seems okay until someone crosses you or betrays you. Then love just seems to make you look foolish. Why bother?
Maybe it is because love is freeing. Hate or fear keeps you tethered to the perpetrator, holds you in bondage to him, which could be why the world seems a burden. If your only objective is to love, it really doesn't matter what happens externally; peace is always a reality within yourself. Which then lightens the Atlantian burden. Seems to make sense, but not terribly easy. Now the whole thing is a paradox - you have to strive hard to lighten your own load.
But if you want to continue to hope, this is what has to be done. Otherwise it is too easy to cop out and say you don't want to deal with this mess anymore. Give me a pina colada and leave me alone. Which doesn't do anyone any good. True joy, love and peace inspires action, even in a fallen world. And the world, and those in it, could use all the caring it can get.