A Way Back to Soul – Part 2

In my last post I began a series which lays out how I talk with people about loss of faith (You can see that post here).  Thank you for posting your comments.  One pastor sent me note expressing that it seemed most of the comments focused on doubt, and he wondered if there was a need to distinguish between having doubts and experiencing a loss of faith.  As I’ve thought about this I’ve decided that maybe there is, but for now I’m going to let these two notions run alongside each other. On to part 2….

When clients express a loss of faith with me, I ask them if they’d be willing to explore that a bit.  Usually they say, “Sure.”

I explain that it can sometimes be helpful to cut through all the religious fog and get back to some very basic concepts.  I then ask something like this,

Do you think this physical reality is all there is?  Or do you tend to believe that there is probably “something more”  — something behind this material world that is, perhaps, even more “real?”

I don’t recall ever having anyone respond with, “Nope, I’m fairly convinced that reality is nothing more than molecules stuck together in the form of chairs, and cats, and brains, and barbecue grills.” If someone does believe that, it means the person is a Materialist.  In my opinion, most of us, regardless of our religious education, live as though we are indeed mere materialists. I still find it unusual for the people who come to see me willing to settle for this view of creation.unhappy kids

If the person resonates with the idea of a deeper reality, I will ask something like this,

Are you okay with me calling whatever this other something is “spiritual?”

Again, you won’t be shocked to know that most folks are okay with the word “spiritual,” though I’m always aware that this word carries all sorts of interesting baggage.  Sometimes we talk about that baggage — about how we’re taught early that “spiritual” is something one is supposed to be, and about all the confusing descriptions of spiritual that have been foisted upon us over the years.  Sometimes a person will recall someone at church who was considered very spiritual, and yet was one of the meanest neighbors in town Monday through Saturday.

Often the word “spiritual” is used to describe people who are simply dedicated to practicing religious behaviors, like attending church regularly and memorizing scripture, and making a tasty broccoli-cheese casserole for the Wednesday evening church supper. If someone was exposed to such shallow definitions as a child, then it’s no wonder that the word may touch off ambivalent thoughts and feelings.

I believe its good for all of us to reconsider, from time to time, what we think we mean when we talk about the existence of a spiritual reality.  Every time I revisit this concept, I realize how fluid my ideas are.

So, let me throw two questions at you:

  1. Do you believe there is a spiritual reality behind this physical reality?
  2. If so, apart from seeing you attend religious services, how would anyone know you believed in a spiritual reality?

I’ll value your responses in the comment section. (If you want your response to remain anonymous, just put something other than your name in the “name” field on the comment form).

Next time: Do you tend to believe that, if there is a spiritual reality, that it’s possible for us humans to connect to it?  If so, do you think its probably good for us, perhaps even important, that we be connected to it?

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About Wes Eades

I've been a pastoral counselor, marital therapist, and overall listening ear since about 1989 or so.
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9 Responses to A Way Back to Soul – Part 2

  1. Mark says:

    All one needs do is watch a video of a human life unfolding from two cells into an embryo, or look at 100,000 neurons compacted into a granule of brain tissue the size of a grain of sand to believe in the spiritual. Clearly there’s an organized intelligence at work that is a little better organized than I am. But I’m making progress. 😉

  2. MPHorne says:

    I’m interested in question 2, here, although I’m not sure someone would necessarily attribute spirituality to the behavior I’m proposing. Nevertheless, the behaviors I think we attribute to “spirit” or “spirituality” might be called attentiveness. What people are attentive to, or notice, or are mindful of, differentiates them in my mind. Usually they are matters of value, or of rather inconspicuous yet essential detail, that set spiritual people off from others. People we call spiritual notice subtleties of situations and circumstances; complexities of relationships; depths of natural process otherwise imperceptible to less attentive persons. Yes, such might not necessarily point to spirituality, but only a well-developed sensitivity to the fathoms of humanity. Or, others call it spirituality.

  3. IMartha says:

    I like the philosopy espoused by Earnest Holmes, Emerson and others who embrace Spirituality but not a particular brand of religion: There is one Power, Presence and Mind in the universe and we are all individual, unique expressions of that One (called God or Spirit). And those most conscious of that Universality of Spirit stand out and are recognized as “different.” I think Jesus was such a figure. I saw an interesting bumper sticker recently that read “Who would Jesus bomb?”
    Martha

  4. wmeades says:

    posted by permission….

    Yes, I would talk to my minister about loss of faith. He has made that possible through admitting his own experiences of loss of faith. He has suggested (from the pulpit) that when one experiences a loss of faith, one should continue in the church–isolating, or separating, oneself from the body of Christ is the most self-destructive thing to do in response to a loss of faith–and rest in the faith of his or her brothers and sisters in Christ until one’s own faith returns.

    He told me once privately when I asked if it had not been very difficult providing a new and fresh weekly sermon for the past almost-thirty years that it depended entirely on whether “it was a week in which I believe or don’t believe in God.” I thought that that was a brave thing to admit to a parishioner, a confession that then gave me permission to acknowledge to myself and others a loss of faith.

    Underlying the ability to honestly admit such failures is a congregation that readily admits to the great mystery of God. We’re a lot more at home with honest questions than pretending that we have all the answers.

  5. Patrick says:

    I read something the other day that pointed out that before there was anything in the universe that could see in three dimensions, the universe was three dimensional.

    I wonder if the spiritual isn’t similar – another dimension that some of us can ‘see’ better than others, but that you can learn to ‘see’ – the classic ways to get there are prayer, meditation, worship – and obedience.

  6. Anon says:

    I never really believed that God loved me unconditionally until the last year or so (thank you to those who’ve had some influence). When I was in 6th grade I was on a retreat with my youth group and I was talking with my pastor one evening — he was also my best friend’s father. I remember telling him that I didn’t feel worthy to be a Christian and I didn’t feel lovable. Narcissistic perhaps. He talked with me about it but needless to say, I wasn’t convinced of my worthiness or of God’s amazing grace.

    One of my problems with bringing the subject up was vulnerability — you open yourself up to hearing that you may be right and may not be worthy. For me, the other issue was that the pastor might think I was weird for thinking such things and had real problems.

    I don’t know if these feelings were more of a “loss of faith” or stemmed from depression. Anyway, those are my thoughts.

  7. Dee says:

    I don’t think one can really be too ‘spiritual” with out visible sign.

    Going off and hidding out in a hermatage to pray is great and I wish I could do it more often. However, living into ones spirituality (what one holds to be most important about life and living it) can only be fully realized when we act upon it.
    And. . . as a minister i feel comfortable saying this, attending religious services is not all that much of a sign. . .

    I’m gonna know/ experiance your (or my) Spirituality by what I see. .. by the way I treat people.. .By the way I treat the creation. . . by the way I treat those ” 100,000 neurons compacted into a granule of brain tissue the size of a grain of sand.”

    By the way I live and move and BE in the world. . .that, to me, is spirituality. . . . What I buy, what I don’t buy. . .what I say or don’t say, etc. . . .

  8. Anon says:

    I never really believed that God loved me unconditionally until the last year or so (thank you Wes, Chuck, David Crowder and klove). When I was in 6th grade I was on a retreat with my youth group and I was talking with my pastor one evening — he was also my best friend’s father. I remember telling him that I didn’t feel worthy to be a Christian and I didn’t feel lovable. Narcissitic perhaps. He talked with me about it but needless to say, I wasn’t convinced of my worthiness or of God’s amazing grace.

    One of my problems with bringing the subject up was vulnerability — you open yourself up to hearing that you may be right and may not be worthy. For me, the other issue was that the pastor might think I was weird for thinking such things and had real problems.

    I don’t know if these feelings were more of a “loss of faith” or stemmed from depression. Anyway, those are my thoughts.

  9. Angela says:

    In answer to whether I think there is a spiritual reality beyond the physical… absolutely not. DING DING DING! You found one! 🙂 And since the second question no longer really applies to me, I will expound on the first if you will tolerate my ramblings.

    Though I was raised for my entire youth in a fundamentalist baptist household, in my young adult years I have come to the current realization that I do not believe in any sort of god and though I agree with many facets of several religions (sacrificial love, charity, kindness), there has up to this point always been some rather glaring inconsistencies that I strongly disagree with (hate, intolerance, exclusion, idealism, the non-existent, blind unwavering acceptance without proper evidence or reason, etc.). I would rather, at this point in my life, take great interest in what is REAL. What is factual, rational, reasonable and discoverable. The ways that people, ideas, and things in life actually ARE.

    Now this, according to Wes’s post, makes me a “Materialist.” That is in fact quite accurate in many respects, though I cringe at the label. A lot of religious discussion in my experience is extremely dependent upon semantics and what people ACTUALLY mean by their word choices and I think in this instance I would prefer a label more akin to “Physicalist” as it covers a bit more ground and is less likely to be misconstrued as the pop-culture or religious implied meaning of the word materialism, easily confused with “consumerism” or the endless greedy desire for materials and things (homes, cars, “bling,” and the like). I could care less about most things. I am much more interested in truth and relationships, and things are merely a supplement that can make life more comfortable and possibly in some instances more enjoyable.

    Many people are taken aback by my convictions since I am an artist, and must therefore believe in SOME kind of spiritual or higher level of being, else how can we explain beauty, love, hope, mystery, poetry, creativity, music and art?! Well, I will tell you quite honestly, without a god there is STILL boundless beauty, love, hope, mystery, poetry, creativity, music AND art. Not only that, but these things seem even MORE wondrous and fantastical and awe-inspiring in a world where there’s no One to attribute it to, but that all the little parts of the Universe have found their own wonderful, amazing, scientific and practical ways to function, create and evolve. My question is: Is that not MORE incredible?! When I read comments like Mark’s (first one), I can understand where he’s coming from as I held that mindset most of my life. But now I have to ask WHY does the wonder of neurons and synapses and the creation of life and the natural process of cell division have to be contributed to something spiritual? WHY is that not incredible and wonderful enough on its own? WHY must we as humans constantly narcissistically try to project ourselves onto nature and search for a Someone who is responsible for anything that happens and can’t seem to accept the incomparable BEAUTY of the science that is blatantly right before our eyes? WHY is that never enough?

    I understand that much of it is a deep desire for meaning, for purpose. Now a lot of people at this point start considering my life “sad” for one reason or another (what about hope, afterlife…). I am always a little surprised, amused and frustrated by this type of hasty conclusion. I wonder if they are really that arrogant and/or ignorant as to think that their own personal way of life is the only satisfying and fulfilling way to live. Unfortunately, I often find that the answer is yes he or she is, and the individual simply doesn’t want to admit it to his or herself (in many cases, they really just haven’t ever had to consider it much or be open to very different perspectives and ways of life – exactly how I was in my youth, admittedly). This is why I don’t particularly think there is any ONE way to live. My personal thought is that anyone with beliefs needs to ALWAYS seriously consider that those beliefs may in truth be completely and utterly wrong and must always remain open to new information (difficult to do with dogma). Thus, though I completely disagree with most of them, I am not sad for people who hold to certain religions. If they have truly found something that enriches their lives, that gives them hope/meaning/purpose where otherwise they would have none, and as long as it is not HARMFUL (this can be very debatable), then good for them! I may personally think their beliefs are total crap, but if it makes their lives better and they are happy and not hurting anyone then great! Please do not misunderstand me here, however. I am not saying that any way is right. Of course I think MY way is right! 😉 But I DO think that everyone is different, everyone has different levels of emotions, different needs, everyone is different psychologically and one size will not fit all. That being said, it will bring me to my final point and I will sincerely try to wrap this up!

    So! What has changed transitioning to a life with no god or spirituality? To be honest… not a whole heck of a lot. Certainly it has affected my relationship with people who are extremely religious (more on their end really if they disapprove of my decisions). The most notable change I can identify is not having an omnipresent, omniscient, unconditionally loving imaginary friend to speak to anymore who really turned out to just be me speaking to my own brain, thinking through it, and responding to myself – which I can still do in a much more realistic, sane and healthy manner. Probably one of my greatest post-religion revelations is that it is pretty much entirely psychological (aside from the community aspect of church which can be found elsewhere), and while it can be much easier to dump all of your concerns off on someone or something else and then attribute any successes, unanswered questions or “failures” to them I do not particularly think that is the most effective or best way for at least me to handle or think through things. You could write it all in a journal if the need is just to get it out of your mind. Or talk it over with someone you trust who will respond audibly in a timely manner with something practical instead of cryptic or nonsensical…. Sorry, that may have been a bit curt. And this is not to say that “needing” that spiritual being for emotional reasons is weak in any way, as I stated before “everyone is different” but it is definitely not for me any longer. I would rather face up to reality and take what comes by responding with real and effectual actions and then dealing with the consequences. One of my “beefs” with the religious upbringing I had was the unabashedly negative message that we as humans are so very completely worthless, incapable of anything on our own, responsible for nothing and need God for everything and anything that happens (which are completely attributed to him in their entirety and we just sat by like an inanimate object being affected by it all). This is a HORRIBLE message first of all that completely undermines human ability, resolve, and resourcefulness and the fact that it is preached to children and individuals struggling through their teen years – the times when they should be MOST empowered and encouraged – still appalls me. I find an atrocious lack of personal accountability and personal pride and self esteem in that type of church. Perhaps one of the most life-changing things I have learned outside religion is exactly how much the Human Mind is vastly and wondrously capable of, and I cannot emphasize that enough. I have also found more GENUINE love, kindness and acceptance for nothing else but the simple sake of love, kindness and acceptance. Not for reward. Not out of “obedience.” Most of all I have found a deep appreciation for people and things EXACTLY THE WAY THEY ARE in real life – which I find to be an extremely difficult and beautiful skill to obtain (and an ongoing one to learn!). As I said in a previous comment, I have also found a renewed sense of wonder for learning and discovering, new motivation to research things more thoroughly, new awe and excitement about the world and the way things work, a new sense of freedom from guilt for doing what is natural to all humans, and renewed purpose to live my life to its fullest because – I believe – this is the time we’ve got. I don’t believe in an afterlife because of a little thing called a life cycle that all living organisms go through naturally. This is not a sad thing. It is an exciting thing! I am immensely happy that I am given the opportunity to experience one and personally feel that I will get more out of it than many religious people who are not living for the day but rather looking forward to something that (I think, based on history and science) doesn’t exist and won’t ever be fulfilled. I think it could be considered much more sad to have false hope than to admit and live for what is real.

    I apologize for the marathon posts… I think this has been on my mind for some time. Hopefully it will be of some use for someone. 🙂

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