Being spiritual

Published May 1, 2011

“We are very, very spiritual. “He looked at me intently to be sure I understood. No trace of superiority. No attempt to prove anything. No further explanation. But clearly a fact of very great importance had been shared with me.

I nodded wisely…with no idea what he was talking about. Did he and his partner practise long hours of silent meditation daily? Perhaps they had a profound prayer life? But people who are committed to those practices never describe themselves as “very, very spiritual.”

They explained to me that they were popular musicians and had a 10-year-old daughter. She had been asking questions about religion. Since they had no religious background but wanted to be able to answer her questions, they had come to me to explain the Bible to them.

In 20 minutes.

Besides, they might even write a modern musical about the Bible. Using the didgeridoo. It could be a career starter. Twenty minutes should be sufficient to get their heads around the Bible and have a basis from which to start composing. I pretended to display a thoughtful wisdom as I stalled for time.

The one 20-minute session turned into several 90-minute meetings, as this very creative couple challenged me, far more than they knew, to describe the basic biblical themes. They called on me to translate their meaning into what the next generation of kids and adults would find significant. They wanted their music to present the Bible with integrity.

The man’s original statement of faith was so personal that I’ve been unable to bring myself to ask him for an explanation. But his claim continues to intrigue me.

They weren’t saying they had a deep sense of God. They weren’t even claiming to have a “spiritual but not religious” hobby interest in God. This couple was telling me something far more important.

I experienced their integrity, their creative commitment and their willingness to bear with me. Without knowing it, they shared with me something of what spiritual means to them, and I’m willing to risk a guess at what they meant.

I think they were telling me that contemporary society is committed to making all of us competent consumers. And they weren’t buying it.

But they were saying even more than that. Nobody really thinks that the purpose of humanity is to increase consumerism. They knew that. But what was different about them was that they had calculated the cost and were prepared to stand back while others participated. They called this “being very, very spiritual.”

I took it as an enormous compliment that they would assume that I, as an officially religious person, would immediately understand what they were talking about. It took me a while, but I did eventually understand. Hopefully, supported by their naive confidence in me, I helped them find the support they were looking for.

They had no idea of the mental gymnastics I went through to get to the 20-minute essence of the Bible. But we came up with the interlocking themes of divine rescue from disaster and divine intervention for justice. That seemed to cover Noah and Joseph’s coat and Moses at the Red Sea and the escape from Egypt and the escape from Babylon and the prophets and Jesus-although with Jesus, the intervention came in a different form.

The way their eyes lit up, I knew they knew exactly what I was talking about. I was delighted that they, with no religious background, understood exactly what the Bible means by rescue from disaster and intervention for justice. Just as they had been delighted that I, a religious person, understood, without explanation, exactly what they meant by being very, very spiritual.  

That could only be the work of the Spirit.

To discover deep commitment to the spirit of hope and justice in some of the least religious places of our time? That’s very, very good news. Ω

The Rev. Canon Harold Munn is rector of the Church of St. John the Divine in Victoria, B.C.


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