Authentic religious piety or spirituality is about one’s sensibilities or taste for the infinite. Although early in life some religious ideation is shaped for many around moral rules handed down which perpetuate old tribal taboos, actual religious life and spirituality is centered in relationship with the Divine (Ward 2002) . Creeds and speculative beliefs aside, there is an intuition in the human psyche that draws us into listening for the Sacred. This listening has in recent history been interrupted and even hijacked for scores of people by the commodification of religion. Somehow, we have managed to make the rituals of seeking connection with God into mere acts of cultural production. The popularization of religion as entertainment has caused us to lose our deep passion for knowing and being known. Spirituality has been replaced by marketing techniques intended to create a sense of comfort, familiarity, and intimate connections with personalities rather than quenching our thirst to apprehend our part in the Universal orchestra of God.
Where our religious life once left us feeling paralyzed and simultaneously intoxicated by the presence of the Divine, cameras with wide-angle lenses and panoramic shots designed to exaggerate the size of the crowd and the effectiveness of the speaker now memorize us into thinking that obedience to the speaker is Holiness. For major portions of the contemporary religious milieu, it is the believer’s ethical duty to follow and fully exploit an opportunity to turn a profit as fulfillment of one’s duty to glorify God with one’s labor (Walton 2009). Even our conservative religious siblings seem to be more interested in being visible as curators of cultural production than curators of authentic soul change.
Spirituality is the method and manner by which the ultimately real actually touches the depth of being of the human personality, transforms it, and causes it to long for true community (Bridges 2001). Authentic spirituality converts the entire existence. The vitriol we see in the mass media and the venom spewed from the highest political office in the land is symptomatic of a loss of deep spirituality in our society. Our tolerance for showmanship over substance is at an all-time high while there seems to be a huge void in genuine meaning making. It seems to me, we need religious ritual and ritualizing more now than ever before. We need spaces that celebrate, promote, and create patterns of behavior that lift the collective soul of humanity to the highest levels of virtue (West 2006). Religious ritual that functions as links between contemporary cultural events and ancient symbols and texts that extol the personal and universal excellence that spirituality calls us to, is essential to reclaiming the soul of our nation and global community.
A properly functioning spirituality nudges us to go beyond what is morally permissible and calls us to what is morally excellent (Volf 2011). As long as we are less interested in what is profitable than we are in what is profit driven we will continue to experience a moral bankruptcy in our realities. Our call must be toward a spirituality which is consciously striving to integrate one’s life in terms not of isolation and self-absorption, but of self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives (Hartin 2010). We must raise the bar on what our liturgies present as spiritual. Our preaching must become prophetic as leaders everywhere boldly begin to speak truth to power regularly. Our music must move pass the temptation of vacuous entertainment to hold in it resistance discourse that brings people into intimate accountability with the truth of the Divine. Our prayers must not be routine, empty platitudes and vain oblations, rather they must be filled with the fire and passion of well-chosen words that convict the hearts of people and articulate the vastness of the Holy. We cannot afford to succumb to the ethos of our contemporary moment, we must be Holy People.
This week as you consider your religious services, ask yourself if your worship experience is a cheap act of cultural production replete with bells and whistles or if it is an invitation for collective spirituality? Where specifically in your gathering are the spaces and points where people are invited to engage the Divine? Is the call for your time together profit driven or is it universally profitable?
Feel free to comment below.
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Bridges, Flora Wilson. 2001. Resurrection Song: African American Spirituality. Maryknoll: Orbis.
Hartin, Patrick J. 2010. Exploring the Spirituality of the Gospels. Collegeville: Liturgical Press.
Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Public Faith. Grand Rapids: BrazosPress.
Walton, Jonathan L. 2009. Watch This! The Ethics and asthetics of Black Televangelism. NewYork: New York University Press.
Ward, Kieth. 2002. God: A Guide for the Perplexed. Oxford: OneWorld.
West, Traci. 2006. Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press.