The first thing God said to Moses was, “Take off your shoes” (Exodus 3:5).
Freshly laid carpet?
Hardly, although sometimes I think that Hank, our newest dachshund family member could show a little more respect for his new home and stop taking a poop on the decorative carpet that covers a portion of the hardwood floors. I don’t care if it is raining outside.
I suspect what we have in God’s admonition “Take off your shoes” is spirituality in its third trimester. That’s the time in a woman’s pregnancy when the birth of her child could come at almost any moment.
Which is kind of how spirituality works.
Here’s what I mean…
Spirituality is the birth of sacred awareness. Inside the soul. I know no other way to say this but that, when spirituality comes to life in you, it does so in an instant with or without your assistance. Suddenly, all of life…literally, all of it…becomes alive with sacredness. Everything, as well as everyone, in an instant, is a sacred entity to you…a kind of extension of the divine itself.
Everything feels holy, too. But not in some stuffy way. It is more like how you might feel when standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon…breathless…so much so, you will feel the need to go barefoot…to take off your shoes, so to speak. To step slowly.
I am frequently asked, “What does it mean to be a spiritual person?”
Here’s what I have come to believe.
1. Spirituality is being struck one day with the surprising realization everything is sacred indeed.
Everything. Not some things. Even pesky little winged creatures like the fly. Or, the mosquito. I know this sounds a bit weird, but maybe it sounds weird only to those who are still asleep.
It is not just in sanctuaries and cathedrals with high ceilings and stained-glass windows where the sense of the sacred is noticed…felt – although, such places are notably sacred, too. What I am saying, however, is this: when you wake up to the Sacredness of all things, it is not just those places but every place indeed…as well as every person who is sacred…regardless of their color, or their religion, or their culture, or their political party…everyone and everything is holy, real, and shoeless.
Spirituality is the unavoidable awareness everything you see, feel, touch, smell, and encounter has the feel of sacredness surrounding it. Which may be why even an atheist has the capacity of being spiritual. I do not know for certain, but I kind of think this might be what Pope Francis was saying. Only the guardians of religion devoid of spirituality are bothered by such a notion. Those aware of the Sacred – how could they be bothered? Even an atheist is sacred to them.
Spirituality cannot be defined, at best only ever described, as I am attempting to do here. You cannot capture it. You cannot become it. Spiritual is who you are already. But, when you become aware of this, you suddenly realize that spirituality is the most precious of all discoveries. Maybe the most important discovery you will ever make. Which makes it all the more sacred to you, too.
You also realize you did nothing to get it. You simply awakened to the realization of your natural state. And, by the way, waking up occurs when you least expect it, too, which I’m pretty certain was the way it happened for Saint Paul, too.
Hell, as well as his hellish behavior, was surprised right out of Saul’s soul, literally. So dramatic was the change, in fact, a name change was in order – Saul became Paul. Saul was not expecting this transformation…anticipating it…praying and pleading for it. Saul who became Paul did nothing to plan for it at all. Most notably, he wasn’t in a worship service, lifting hands heavenward or tapping his right foot to the beat of a praise song when it occurred. He was doing nothing at all in fact, except doing what he thought was right, which was really wrong, and traveling from city to city to do it.
You cannot manufacture the experience of the Sacred. It will happen to you in its own. When it does, however, it will leave you speechless. Saul went into some trance-like state and, when he woke up, he was Paul. He was different. And, nothing was ever the same.
Which is the story of every awakened soul, whether Christian or Muslim or Hindu or nothing at all.
Isn’t that enough?
Not to those still asleep.
Theologians, Biblical and contemporary, teachers, preachers, and others call the spiritual experience “grace,” which of course it is. The mistake, however, we religious folk too often make is nothing short of a gross and negligent act of reductionism. We reduce the grace experience of spirituality into a religion of rules and processes and, after a while, denominational procedures that one must follow in order to be properly manufactured as spiritual mannequins. We look spiritually alive but inside we are dead…lifeless…unconscious that we are, too.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found,” counseled Isaiah (Isa 55:6).
There is but one problem with this, Mr. Isaiah. You’re wrong.
You cannot find God. He/she/it doesn’t play hide-n-seek.
Nope. Spirituality is waking up to the realization that what you seek is seeking you…and may, in fact, BE you. It is hard to say this, I know. But, when spirituality is you…that is, who you now know yourself to be…you almost have this feeling – which may be why Jesus described it as oneness with the Father in John 17 and, coincidentally, prayed that his followers would know the same. But, whatever, you just come to this place where you know that you are that which you seek.
Spirituality, therefore, is an awareness of the sacredness of everything.
2. The gift of this sacred awareness is God’s part…God’s gift…and, our part? Well, that, too, comes more natural than it may seem: God said to Moses, “Take off our shoes,” but I have this feeling he was already doing so.
Which is the way most people respond to their spiritual awakening. When everything feels and is sacred, something needs removing. After all, when you came into this world, you came fully naked, not clothed. It’s all that clothing stuff…the stuff of religion and rules and proper-ness…that starts coming off the moment you experience again the naturalism of your original state.
What I say next I cannot say with absolute certainty. However, I am growing more and more convinced that spirituality is not becoming more and more holy. It is not wearing a business suit but feeling inside, and so behaving around others, as if you were a monk in a monastery who never thinks a bad thought, speaks only in Thee’s and Thou’s, and is just plain holier than everybody else in the world.
Heck, some days I feel lousy, out-of-sorts, and anything but holy.
There are times I feel close to God; at other times, I wonder if there is a God.
I laugh. I cry. I am happy sometimes. I am often sad.
I feel confident sometimes but, at other times, I’m scared shitless.
I used to own an arsenal of guns and defended it as an American right. Truth is, I’m scared and find comfort in imagining I have adequate protection.
I get angry. I sometimes cuss. I don’t always think the most wholesome thoughts.
And, I feel guilty about all of this, even as if I should apologize to you for admitting these things when, in my better moments, I’m only describing JUST HOW IT IS WITH YOU, too.
Am I right?
Damn right, I’m right.
I’m not right about many things, but I got this one.
My problem is, just as your problem is, I was raised wrong. Plain and simple, by people who had spirituality all wrong, too. And, they were very devout churchgoing people. They were just wrong, however. They did the best they could but their best was pretty bad…when it comes to what spirituality really is.
That’s no judgment. Just a fact.
Many still get spirituality all wrong. Which is why pews are emptying everywhere. People have finally gotten the courage to step away from the familiar and look elsewhere for what they haven’t found under the steeple.
Spirituality has little to do with “proper behavior.” Packaging spirituality in a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” and “what we believe” and rules of etiquette and…well…none of this gets at it. So many devout people still have this erroneous notion that the really spiritual people of this world have beaten their “flesh” into subjection so that they never ever again know jealousy or envy or angry or have a lustful thought but they have instead separated themselves even from themselves.
Well, to that idea of spirituality, I say this: “POPPYCOCK!”
It’s bull. It’s not right. It is in fact just plain wrong.
It’s taken me a lifetime to figure this out – this spirituality thing. Again, and it will take almost a lifetime for you to get this, too, but spiritual is not something you become. It is who you are already. It is simply waking up to this reality. And, the nice part is, you will wake up to this awareness many, many times and, then, one day, you won’t wake up anymore. You will just never again fall asleep to this awareness. You will be this awareness.
So think of it this way: Spirituality is becoming more and more yourself…more and more human. It is to know fear instead of this notion you’ve lived with that, if you’re really spiritual you will never be fearful. Of course, you will. Faithful people are still fearful people. Sometimes. It’s just plain bull to think otherwise. Faith is faithfulness even when you’re afraid. Faith is fear dressed up in a boxer’s uniform and refusing to ever quit fighting.
Being spiritual does not mean feelings of anger have disappeared forever. Heck no! Hardly a day will ever go by for genuinely spiritual people but what they will feel angry. What changes, I suppose, is the stuff that pisses them off. It starts to become less about little stuff…and, more about big stuff like injustice and social inequality and the abuse of this planet and the abuse of people.
Spiritual people feel sadness at loss, too. They know suffering. They feel pain. They have difficulties. They’re familiar with hardship. They get sick. They grow old, suffer illnesses and, yes, they eventually die. This notion that really spiritual people are never to be sick…is SICK itself. It’s nonsense and, if you believe that nonsense, you of all people are most misguided.
No, my friend, spirituality is not becoming something other than who you are. It is learning to live INTO your humanity with all of it’s joys, pleasures, pains, hopes, and fears. It is to LIVE into these experiences but…and here’s the difference…you live INTO these experiences with a profound sense of the Sacred.
And, it is that sense of the Sacred…that feeling you should walk barefoot in this world…which is, of course, the way you showed up…barefoot and naked. Human. Spiritual. And, yes, even Divine.
You don’t know this yet? You haven’t yet felt the need to “Take off your shoes?”
You will. One day. When you least expect it.