The Spiritual Journey...not as mysterious as it sounds
What is spirituality? The modern connotations of gemstones, horoscopes, and tarot cards may be missing the mark.
Though I’m not prepared to rule out the moon’s position on my mental health just yet, I am prepared to declare that human freedom exists which is far beyond the forces of nature.
So what is spirituality then? Is it religion? Is it rituals?
Is it simply “doing the next right thing?” Is it praying? Perhaps meditating? Maybe tantric breathing while posturing oneself full lotus?
Sure, why not? I believe all of the above can contribute to one’s spirituality.
However, I do not believe these definitions adequately capture the substance of the spiritual journey any more than a person’s vocation defines their humanity.
The substance of humanity is more than just what we do, in like manner spirituality is more than just mere practices.
So What Is It!!
It’s freedom, plain and simple. Unfortunately, this plain and simple definition only produces more questions, like “what in the heck is freedom?”
Cue Papal Infallibility…spiritual freedom!
Most folks think of freedom as the ability to do what they want or the right to exercise their wills as they see fit.
However, can this be freedom?
What if what I want impinges upon the freedom of another? This cannot be freedom. Why? Because there is always the chance that someone else’s freedom will cancel out mine and that anticipation is enslaving not freeing.
A consequence of this line of reasoning is that freedom is ultimately relational; it’s a corporate identity. It’s found with the other in mind; we will get to this in a bit.
So, perhaps freedom is the absence of restrictions or laws. It’s a freedom from something. Freedom from authorities, taxes, jobs, parents, rules, responsibilities, etc. (insert your restriction). But is freedom the absence of restrictions?
Tim Keller rightly notes,
“Modern people like to see freedom as the complete absence of any constraints. But think of a fish. Because a fish absorbs oxygen from water, not air, it is free only if it is restricted to water. If a fish is ‘freed’ from the river and put on the grass to explore, its freedom to move and soon even to live is destroyed. The fish is not more free, but less free, if it cannot honor the reality of its nature. The same is true with airplanes and birds. If they violate the laws of aerodynamics, they will crash into the ground. But if they follow them, they will ascend and soar. The same is true in many areas of life: Freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, those that fit with the realities of our own nature and those of the world…”
Therefore, the right restrictions do not hold us back but liberate us, freeing us to act according to our nature. Freedom to love, to show compassion, to teach, to learn, to give, to share, to listen, to forgive, to trust, to hope, to help and encourage etc.
The implications are evident. This “freedom law” or restriction which governs humanity is a moral one; hence John Paul’s “ought.” And one, the resounding motif here, ‘ought’ to keep the ‘other’ in mind, this is humanity’s nature, as water is to a fish a community is to a man…which leads to my next point.
One of surest ways to comprehending something – particularly something difficult – is by first discovering what it is not – this is called apophatic reasoning or reasoning by negation. A natural consequence of this is that those of us who can explicate the exact parameters of freedom might just be those who have experienced consummate captivity.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Theologian, who in a failed attempt to overthrow the Third Reich was subsequently arrested, tossed into prison, and eventually killed in one of the infamous Nazi concentration camps. It was here, ironically, that he penned the finest words on freedom I’ve ever encountered.
Freedom is not a quality of man, nor is it an ability, a capacity, a kind of being that somehow flares up in him. Anyone investigating man to discover freedom finds nothing of it. Why? because freedom is not a quality which can be revealed–it is not a possession, a presence, an object, nor is it a form of existence–but a relationship and nothing else. In truth, freedom is a relationship between two persons. Being free means “being free for the other,” because the other has bound me to him. Only in relationship with the other am I free.
Thus we see a specific trajectory, the developmental stages of freedom if you will.
- Freedom from restrictions (clearing away unnecessary restrictions).
- Freedom to act in accordance with human nature (find the right restriction per nature).
- Freedom for the other (grounding identity in the “other”).
Kant’s Kingdom Of Ends…
Roughly 200 years prior to Bonhoeffer, a gentleman by the name of Immanuel Kant wrestled with every conceivable philosophical position known to man, all without even leaving his mother’s basement. Ok, the latter is not true but it’s always how I envisioned him and this is another thing I am not prepared to rule it out.
One particular doctrine he postulated is historically known as the “categorical imperative.” Let me try to break this down.
The Ethical Conundrum
If freedom is a relationship something must then exist to govern that relationship, to ensure its freedom as it were. This is perhaps the residence of the conscience; the sphere of morality – namely, right and wrong, good and evil, subject and object (John Paul’s ‘ought’).
By subject, I’m referring to that which holds infinite value and worth – a human being.
By object, I’m referring to that which holds a limited value in terms of utility but has no intrinsic worth (e.g. a tool).
Therefore, objects are designed to be used as a means to an end; subjects are specially created as an end in themselves. This is the crux of Moral Law (in the field of ethics this school of thought is traditionally known as Deontology).
The Categorical Imperative ==>The Freedom Catalyst
So what does this mean? Well, the term ‘categorical’ means absolute and ‘imperative’ means necessary. Therefore, in terms of “freedom for the other,” this mode of living is not only absolute and unconditional but precipitates necessary and unwavering action; this is what John Paul’s ‘ought’ and Bonhoeffer’s ‘freedom for the other’ fused together look like:
- Act only in such a way that you would want your actions to become a universal law, applicable to everyone in a similar situation.
- Act in such a way that you always treat humanity (whether oneself or other), as both the means of an action, but also as an end.
- Act as though you were a law-making member (and also the king) of a hypothetical “kingdom of ends”, and therefore only in such a way that would harmonize with such a kingdom if those laws were binding on all others.
Spirituality Is Freedom
But Of Necessity Relational And Moral.
Therefore, a spirituality that is detached from community/relationship and void of moral law is no spirituality at all. However, in terms of addiction recovery, this is where the Twelve Steps are brilliantly composed.
They are deeply relational:
- God and fellowship presuppose each other; this has been evident since ancient times e.g. The Ten Commandments, wherein the first four deal with one’s relationship with God and the latter six deal with one’s relationship with the ‘other’.
- If humans are made in the image of the infinite then they bear infinite value. Thus, the infinite (God) must be the starter (self-evident, a priori, or the first principle or whatever the philosophers call it). Relationally, this must be the natural sequence for freedom. This is apparent with step 1, 2, and 3. One’s relationship with God must come first.
- Organically, this starting point leads to some radical conclusions about the moral reality of self; indeed, it’s the only logical beginning point for any form of knowledge of self. Therein lies step 4.
- The outflow of self-knowledge is knowledge of others. This is the mediation stage; that is, where I begin to understand myself through others. This is fairly straightforward because it takes a community to truly know an individual. Self-examination and self-knowledge is ultimately a communal endeavor and of necessity is moral. Consider, only certain individuals can draw out various facets of your personality, in order to see all the myriad dimensions of self you need a variety of counter personalities. We begin to see a concerted effort take place to achieve this end in steps 5,6, and 7.
- Consequently, only once the starter has communally taken you through yourself is authentic spiritual fellowship (“for the other”) possible. Tangible evidence of this manifests in step 8 and 9.
- Step 10 is merely adopting the lifestyle to live “for the other.” It’s practicing the basic tenets of steps 1 – 9 on a daily basis.
- Step 11 is the daily reminder that God is the starter, that communally humanity reflects the infinite, and that logically a kingdom of ends must follow. Thus, Step 11 not only makes step 12 possible but demands it.
Freedom is not merely doing what you like; instead, it’s a right to do what you ought.
And what you ought to do is live for the other.
This and only this can lead to a kingdom of ends – true freedom with the right restrictions, according to nature, built upon a moral law, and always with the other in mind.
This is authentic spirituality.
So, what are you waiting for?
Get free today.