Practical tools for your personal spiritual life from Phil Fox Rose.
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What Works: On the Way
I’m honored and excited to tell my longtime column readers here that I’ve been invited to start a blog on Patheos. This column isn’t going anywhere, but I want to share what’s happening in the blog.
Over three years ago I started writing this column about personal spirituality, with an emphasis on useful tools and tips. In the new blog I’ll continue that theme, but it will be much broader and with near daily posts. The name of the blog is “On the Way” and the Way has many meanings. Each touches on part of what I’ll be covering:
Many spiritual traditions speak of a way or path or road — staying on it, straying from it, turning back in the right direction. I love this way of looking at spiritual life as a journey down a path. The sides have no walls. It’s easy to be distracted by thoughts and drift off course; or startled by fears and bolt from the path. I think of the Scott Peck book, The Road Less Travelled, and the Robert Frost poem on which its title was based, and I can’t help thinking of the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno. One translation puts it like this:
I found myself obscured in a great forest,
Bewildered, and I knew I had lost the way.
Some say the way is straight and narrow, but not only is this contradicted by my experience, it’s also a misquote of scripture. The phrase in Matthew 7:14 is “strait and narrow” which literally means narrow and narrow — a literary device often used in scripture to emphasize a point. Yes, at times the way can be narrow, and often it’s winding and confusing and overgrown. And there are forks.
In Hebrew scripture, the word shub is used countless times. It means turn around or turn back (which is also what “convert” means). The Hebrew people were always straying and coming back. It wasn’t uncommon for them to stray as far as worshipping a different God altogether, then come back. The point is not to judge but to act. If I’m hiking in the woods and lose the trail, I don’t sit down and berate myself; I look for markers or retrace my steps. The metaphors are endless. You can build practices to help you keep on the path next time. You can bring a GPS device. Much religious noise comes from people judging themselves and others for straying from the path, instead of just turning back onto it.
I will talk about tips and tools to help in the life-long process of discernment and course correction. They come from the collective wisdom of others, have been tried in personal experience and tested through sharing in spiritual direction. Of course, like the guidance on my tattoo in the blog’s banner photo (and above), these things are simple, but not easy.
The term Tao (or dao) used in some Eastern traditions means “Way” — the natural flow of things which some Christians call God’s Will. “Yoga” means yoke; a yoke steers one to stay on the path. Contemplative practices, both Eastern and Western teach you how to not fight against reality. People today spend much of their time living in and reacting to something other than reality — whether inner anxieties or the distorted materialistic culture around us. The Gita says that a life based on expectations — trying to anticipate and manipulate reality — is a life of anxiety. Drawing on two decades of contemplative meditation practice, study and teaching, I’ll be posting about finding serenity and harmony through deepening your connection with God / the ground of all being / what is.
Early Christians called their new practice the Way, and I’ll be sharing from my encounters with cool experiments in Christian worship and community. I think church attendance is down not because young adults are less interested in faith but because they are less willing to do or accept things that are empty for them merely out of obedience. Whether within mainline churches or not, call them emergent or whatever, these new forms are full of faithful people trying to reconnect with what can make spiritual community a sustaining, grounding, core part of life, rather than a checklist item for Sunday morning. For example, check out this post of Nadia Bolz-Weber or this one about St. Lydia’s. I will also talk about the Church with a capital C but only if it’s constructive; I’m not interested in criticizing and sniping.
When the recovery movement was starting, the title of AA’s Big Book originally was to be “The Way Out.” My own spiritual journey began in earnest when I got sober and I’ll be talking about finding your way out of addiction and compulsive patterns and the ongoing journey of sober life which follows. So many spiritual themes run through the process of recovery. So many of us are prodigal sons. So many of us were lost but now are found. So many of us have been born again into a new life where our perceptions and behaviors are radically realigned. And so many of us are profoundly aware that we do not deserve any of it.
Like nature, art has always been a part of my spiritual life, even when I didn’t see it that way. I’ve written both prose and poetry since my early teens. Also, growing up, I had lots of transcendent moments listening to music and was part of the punk and no wave scenes. It’s no different today. Whether it’s the most ethereal sacred choral music or a shifting wall of sound from post-metal band Isis, music moves me. As did the recent Sigur Rós concert I saw that led to this reflection. And singing at church every week is part of how I express and experience my faith. I’ve started to discover the transcendent in dance. Occasionally, while watching I get choked up though I can’t say why. It just happens. Art at its best is about the reach for something greater. Artists often talk about something beyond or deep within themselves coming through. (Can’t help mentioning “The Artist’s Way” also, both to get the “Way” reference in and because it has been a part of my journey.)
Listeners / viewers / readers sometimes get to share in those transcendent moments. Hildegard of Bingen said it was the closest we can get to experiencing life in the Garden of Eden. I’ll be exploring the intersection of art and spirituality from both sides.
(And as you probably already know about me, I like pop music too. There will be posts about Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. You’ve been warned.)
Notes from the along the Way
I’m also defining the Way as life in general, and this blog will include my reports from the road — both overtly faith-related and not, like this post about Aly Raisman, winning and tiebreakers. I believe there’s no clear line between stuff that’s spiritual and the rest. I’ve experienced transcendent moments in nature and church, listening to music and reaching consensus in a business meeting. I find lessons in reality contest shows (not reality drunk-people-being-stupid shows.) I have some hefty history in politics and sometimes weigh in, like this post on Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand. So this final category is a catchall for me to say whatever I feel moved to say.
I know enough to know how little I know, but I hope to share a few things that will be useful to you, and mostly I look forward to the journey. I hope you join me. Add a bookmark for patheos.com/blogs/philfoxrose and subscribe to the blog – by feed or by email.