Nurturing Spiritual Growth in the New Year

Nurturing spiritual growth in the New Year.

Seems important enough.

But how? Good question to ask, whatever your spiritual tradition may be, but especially at the dawn of the New Year.

I pursue spirituality from the perspective of the Christian faith. What follows, however, is not based on the assumption the Christian way of spirituality is the "only" way. It is not, although I was taught it was.

I think I began to question that assumption, however, on what was the first of several trips I took abroad. My mother was a tour leader, so I traveled the world during my teen and young adult years and this extensive travel has impacted my perspective toward almost everything. By the time I had graduated college, in fact, there were not many continents I had not visited.

Which means I saw many things, more things than most would see in a lifetime.

And, many things I saw I could not so easily or, worse, flippantly dismiss.

Like the many religions of the world.

I remember when I first learned there are more than three thousand of them and, if there is one distinctive feature almost all of them share, it is this: they all believe they're right. Or, at the least, followers all believe they are more "right" than the believers following one of the 2,999 others.

I was about twelve or thirteen years old when the thought occurred to me, "These religions cannot all be right any more than they could all be wrong. Furthermore, how could any single one of them be right and all the rest wrong?"

Those are big questions for any teenager to process. And yet, it was provocative questions like this that came to me when I was very young and I suppose they were all sparked by something I saw.

For example...

  • I've stood on the plaza of St. Peter's Basilica and observed thousands of Catholics breathlessly waiting for the appearance of their papal leader. I was twelve. Pope Paul VI was the leader they gathered to see. I remember wondering who all of them were. I mean, they were Catholics. I was a Baptist. Until then, I don't remember meeting a Catholic. Not up-close or personally. So, I turned to my parents and asked, "Who are Catholics?" "What do they believe?" "How are their beliefs different from ours?" "Are they Christian like us?"

Rather jolting questions to a twelve year old Baptist boy growing up in the south where almost everybody I knew was not only "Christian" but Baptist, and the line of separation between the two almost non-existent.

Nurturing Spiritual Growth in the New Year

  • If memory serves me correct, it was on this same trip I witnessed for the first time Zen Buddhists in Nepal. I was amazed as I watched them sit motionless in meditation, hands folded in their laps.

You're right. Again, I asked, "Who are these Buddhists?" "What do they believe?" "Are they going to heaven, too?"

  • In India, I was mesmerized by the Hindu priests whose flutes commanded cobras into submission. Or, so it seemed.
  • I saw Muslims for the first time when we visited Istanbul, Turkey. If you've ever seen the Blue Mosque in that very western city, you know just how stunningly beautiful it is. Even to a teenager from America, who was equally stunned by the hundreds of men, or maybe it was thousands, who bowed in humble submission to Allah.
  • "Is Allah a God, too?" I asked.
  • "Or, just the first or last name for God?"
  • "Does God have many names?"
  • "Or, are there many Gods with different names?"
  • Big questions. Furthermore, you cannot see the many different expressions of spirituality that I saw early in life and not ask such questions.

    My views have changed significantly over the years. But I'm very passionate about my faith. In many ways, more so than I have ever been. The difference today is that, instead of judging other traditions as inferior to mine, I seek to learn from them, appreciate what the spiritual experiences we share in common, and learn from our differences. In fact, I share in something Mother Teresa once said in the late 80's when a reporter interviewed her for Time magazine.

    I think that sums up precisely where I am in my own faith walk today. Admittedly, my views are offensive, even threatening, to many of my Christian friends, just as I'm sure a similar approach of openness with a Buddhist or a Muslim would be threatening to some within their traditions.

    I try to be understanding of this, precisely because I'm aware that they have been taught to believe that Christianity is a superior religion, or the "right" faith, and that any other faith is inadequate or just plain wrong.

    I do not believe this anymore. Instead, as with Rumi, the Sufi poet of the 13th century, I believe "there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground."

    Spirituality and nurturing spiritual growth is what's important to me today, whatever your spiritual tradition.

    Why is Nurturing Spiritual Growth Important?

    Here's why:

    1. Spirituality: nurturing spiritual growth helps you live more deeply into your humanity.

    I also believe...

    2. Spirituality: nurturing spiritual growth will make you a healthier person, emotionally, psychologically and, yes, even physically.

    I cannot prove any of this. But then, I don't feel the need to do so either. I do know some need this and fortunately, for those who do, there are plenty of recent scientific studies available that underscore the importance of spirituality to healthy living.

    For me, however, it is enough to know that deep within my heart, and I believe the heart of every person, is this insatiable hunger for significance...for joy...for inner peace...for a happiness that's more enduring than the occasional kind we feel when we get a promotion, or a pay increase, or a new car, or the kind of joy we feel when we've had a little too much to drink at the New Year's Eve party.

    I think most people not only look for this kind of inner contentment but I also believe spirituality, whatever the tradition, has a way of fulfilling this inner longing, as nothing else can.

    Which is why I'm suggesting, amid all your planning for the New Year, remember nothing is as enduring, or as satisfying, as a deep, spiritual connection to yourself and your Source.

    Just this morning, for example, I was reading Matthew 25 and the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Five virgins were ready when the groom appeared. Five were unprepared for his appearing.

    It's a strange little story with a great big lesson about spirituality and nurturing spiritual growth.

    Spirituality is all about preparing yourself for that Divine/human moment. That instant which...

    • Cannot be predicted.
    • Comes with no prior announcement.
    • May occur through a pleasant situation.
    • Or, an unpleasant one.
    • A chance encounter.
    • Or, when you are completely alone.
    • But almost always when you least expect it.

    Which is why readiness is helpful. Necessary even.

    • Want to be ready...prepared...for this spontaneous moment of spiritual rebirth?
    • Spiritual awakening?
    • Want to create the climate within which spiritual growth may occur?
    • Where a conscious awareness of God's abiding presence is birthed within you?
    • And, is maintained in you?
    • Instead of coming and going, as that Presence seems to do now?

    Remember these two things...

    1. Believe that you are a spiritual person already.

    Why? Because you are. You're not "a human being in search of a spiritual experience," to loosely quote the late Teilhard de Chardin. You are instead, "a spiritual being in search of your humanity."

    God is in your human experience. Every bit of it. The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. He is not the cause but she IS the core, the center, the substance of every experience.

    Look for her. She's there.

    God is in your humanity. Live deeply into it.

    Don't listen to the religious goofballs on religious television who despise their humanity, feel like anything of the "flesh" as they refer to it, is ugly, tainted, sinful or to be resisted and despised.

    They do not know but the fact that they despise and deny their humanity (flesh), they have become spiritual schizoids of the sickest sort. They have no clue about how God has ordered this world or made you and me. Much less why. They think they know but they are a misguided bunch and they have unfortunately misguided millions.

    Don't be one of them.

    Need proof what I'm saying is right?
    Think about the real meaning of Christmas. What do you think that story is all about?

    Jesus was not a Superman (god) disguised as Clark Kent who invades human history as a Divine God/Man. Oh, I know, that's the story you've heard. But it is a distortion of the real Christmas story.

    Jesus was a man, fully human, just like you and me. What made him different is not that he was really God pretending to be a man. What made him different is that this man lived fully into his humanity, perhaps more deeply than any person who ever lived. Others have gotten close, maybe as close. I don't know. What I feel as if I know - from my own admittedly subjective life experience - is that Jesus, the man, lived into his humanity fully.

    So much so, even.

    People felt as if they were meeting with God. Which, of course, they were. That's the real story of Christmas. God, the Eternal Christ, the Eternal Buddha (just thought I'd add that for my Buddhist friends) was fully, completely, expressed through this man, Jesus.

    It doesn't get much more profound than this. That's why there is something so magical about Christmas. It's the yearly reminder that divinity was expressed through humanity. That the potential is the same for you and me, too. We become God-like by becoming more human-like. By living fully into our own humanity.

    So, in this coming year...

    • Feel human joy. You're supposed to.
    • Feel human pain. You can't avoid it. And, it isn't punishment from God.
    • Feel rotten. You will from time to time. Who doesn't?
    • Feel temptation. You're going to be tempted. It isn't wrong. It's human. Of course, try not to succumb. But, if you do...well...that's what religion showed up to help you with. Ask for forgiveness.
    • Make restitution, if need be.
    • Learn from it.
    • Then, get over it.
    • Let go of it.
    • And, get on with your life.

    2. Regard every spontaneous thought of God as a gift from God planted precisely on the porch of your consciousness.

    And, why would She do this? Precisely because God's Spirit is all about helping you out - all about nurturing spiritual growth within you.

    • So, receive the thought.
    • Take it by the hand.
    • Dance 'round the room with it.
    • Give thanks for it.

    Nurturing spiritual growth in the New Year is possible by only giving a little of your busy attention to this bridegroom who spontaneously shows up from time to time in your thoughts.

    Like right now.
    Why are you reading this?
    You know why.
    Something in these words resonates so deeply in you...
    You cannot let them go.

    Nor should you.
    Dance instead.

    That's the meaning of this Parable of the Virgins? It's not about the Rapture. What a hoot!

    • Presence comes to everyone.
    • Presence comes unpredictably.
    • Even to those who don't want the gift or who even resist it.
    • This Presence comes every day. IS this day.
    • All year long.

    Nurturing spiritual growth in the New Year is just about readiness.

    So, make ready, my friend.
    You've just been given a gift on the porch of your consciousness.

    It's not a gift from me to you.
    It's a gift from you know who!

    I suspect there will be more...throughout the New Year!