Spirituality of Action

Last night was the final gathering of the Buddhist-Christian Interspirituality Group I have been faciliatating. Our discussion centered on one of the chapters of Wayne Teasdale’s The Mystic Heart. (It may have been Teasdale who first used the term “interspirituality.”)

The chapter I had asked participants to read was titled Out in the World: The Spirituality of Action. In it, Teasdale discusses what he identifies as the three important elements of the social dimension that is found in all traditions of spirituality: simplicity of life, selfless service, and the prophetic or moral value.

Simplicity of life concerns our relationship with everything and everyone in this world – other human beings, other species, the natural world, the planet. Teasdale calls simplicity of life “an inner focus on what is necessary. As we grow in mystical consciousness and become inwardly integrated, our life naturally becomes simplified, uncluttered by property and money…Simplicity has a way of focusing our attention on what is absolutely essential; it goest to the core of our being and strips away all the distractions that compete for our attention.”

One of the questions we discussed last night was what does simplicity of life look like in a culture like the United States for non-monastics. It is worth reflecting on. I sometimes feel that, despite my best efforts at giving away possessions and refraining from purchases, I still have way more than I need. Experiences like the Camino, where I lived easily out of a backpack, help remind me of how little we actually need.

The second important element – selfless service and compassionate action – are clearly central to all faith traditions. Yet, as Teasdale observes, one can find examples in all faith traditions of the “problem of inaction,” of the failure to respond to the needs of others in a loving compassionate way. I suspect this “total availability” is something most of us have to work on.

The same is true for the third. “A further vital component in a universal spirituality, and so in an interspirituality, is the awakened and utterly necessary function of leadership in the area of justice.” Teasdale calls this the operation of the prophetic voice – the voice that “vigorously acknowledges the unjust events and policies that cause enormous tension, misery, and dislocation in the lives or countless numbers of people.” We have a responsibility to witness and to respond.

There is too much to say on this subject than I can say in this single post. So let me here say simply this. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the injustice that exists in so many areas, to say what can I possibly do in the face of so many large problems. But it is not overwhelming to pick one thing to be your focus. We can’t each respond to every need in the world. But we can each do something. What is the issue that most tugs at your soul? Is it homelessness? Trafficking? Treatment of those with mental illness? Pick one and investigate what you can do in that area.


Shedding Possessions

A couple of weeks ago, my friend George brought a website to my attention, Accompl.sh, a site that allows one to set personal goals and track the progress toward those goals. The site also has challenges that one can enter with other members of the site.

One of the challenges that caught my eye immediately was “Shed 100 possessions.” As my husband can attest, I periodically look around the house and get crazy at all that we have. “We have too many things,” I cry out. This is usually followed by my walking around the house stuffing things in a paper bag to get rid of. Loving the idea of encouragement to get rid of more, I entered the challenge and am working my way toward reaching 100.

I don’t always easily find the words to explain this impetus to my husband. But, I know it is a good one. In a wonderful coincidence of timing, shortly after I began the “Shed 100 possessions” challenge, I came across this excerpt from Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. I think it does a great job of explaining why the impetus is positive. Rohr writes:

Living in the second half of life, I no longer have to prove that I or my group is the best, that my ethnicity is superior, that my religion is the only one that God loves, or that my role and place in society deserve superior treatment. I am not preoccupied with collecting more goods and services; quite simply, my desire and effort—every day—is to pay back, to give back to the world a bit of what I have received. I now realize that I have been gratuitously given to–from the universe, from society, and from God. I try now, as Elizabeth Seton said, “to live simply so that others can simply live.”

For St. Vincent de Paul, one of the five characterisic virues is simplicity. I can’t say I’ve achieved it (far from it), but I’m working on it.

Love, Simplicity and Joyous Service

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Philip Neri, a saint of the sixteenth century.  I know very little about St. Philip.  What prompts my mention of him today is a single line in the description of him provided before the Mass readings of the day in my Magnificat.

We tend to celebrate people who have done great and glorious deeds.  The flashy.  Those with extraordinary talent who do extraordinary things.

The line in the description of Philip that stuck me was this: “He excelled in his love of neighbor and in evangelical simplicity along with a joyous service to God.”

We can complicate it in many ways. But the description of Philip Neri is a good prescription for us. Love. Simplicity. Joyous service.

In that last aspect, it is worthwhile to emphasize both words of the description. Service, of course. But joyous service. As one commentator observed in writing about Philip, “Many people wrongly feel that such an attractive and jocular personality as Philip cannot be combined with an intense spirituality. Philip’s life melts our rigid, narrow view of piety. His approach to sanctity was truly catholic, all-embracing and accompanied by a good laugh.”

St. Philip, pray for us.