No, the world isn’t spiritually bankrupt. There is still beautiful music, sensational ballet, wondrous opera, outstanding painting and many other arts and crafts that testify to humankind’s ability to express the voice of whoever is our God. Nature herself provides endless opportunities for seeing the miracle of creation. And all of this can be brought to your home and projected on a screen so that you can watch it in comfort. Never before has the human race had so many chances to see, to learn and to absorb the essence of who we are and what we can do. What makes you joyous about your world? What makes your heart beat faster and enlists your wonder at being part of such a moving, absorbing and stirring cavalcade? Whatever your answer, it is your Character.
Trouble is, we have expressed ourselves from limited access to knowledge about our world to almost too much. We cannot absorb everything that is available to us so we must select what to study and what to miss out on. It’s a hard choice when every new invention demands our attention – at the very least to know what it is about and possibly to engage, even to overwhelm, our lives. Who would have thought that Facebook and other social media would play such an important part in our daily chatter and, at the same time, stir world politics to the heart of the voter? Who knows where a highly developed Artificial Intelligence will lead us? Guess what progressive medicine will do for longevity and pain relief. Above all, when will interplanetary travel thrive? Our knowledge of the world is great. Our knowledge of the universe will be even greater.
But humankind is an odd mixture of mind and matter. Depending on our upbringing and education we may develop hugely creative abilities or we may stay in the tiny world of our home environs, remain a watcher rather than become a participant and contribute little to humanity’s progress. Does it matter? Do we have to exhaust ourselves mastering one skill after another, studying several philosophies in order to seek, and possibly find, the truth of our existence? Must we grow ourselves mentally as we grow the potatoes we need to eat physically?
No, we don’t have to, but not to do so is to waste a lifetime of interest and an opportunity unique to you. If I gave you a modern, fully equipped, beautiful car you wouldn’t leave it in the garage, would you? You are worth more than a whole fleet of cars. So the effort your parents, teachers, mentors make is to help you achieve your potential, not for worldly satisfaction but for your own satisfaction. But is this effort to help you fulfil your life missing something? Perhaps something spiritual?
I don’t mean going to church, though many people find their spirituality that way. The mysticism of which I write is somewhat less noticeable. It is the ability to hear the drip of water from a leaf after a storm, to sense the joy of being truly loved by someone, to watch a sunset and know that it is a promise of tomorrow. It is to release humankind’s creativity, to allow a sense of wellbeing without drugs or artificial stimulants. It is to become who we can be, whether by acting Shakspeare or winning the football match. It is strictly personal but it involves other people – deeply.
It makes the biggest demand we can make of ourselves – thinking. This is a dangerous business for many people. They reckon they are too insignificant to sway the course of the world – or even their neighbours. They are mistaken. As the Dalai Lama so rightly said “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”. The business of thinking means forecasting, guessing what is going to happen. If you want to you can become a good, though not a perfect, forecaster without too much difficulty. But you always have to take a risk and that risk is your contribution to making the world a better place.
Spiritual bankruptcy arises from failing to engage in an experiment and not trying to become a forecaster at the same time. I speak metaphorically, of course. What is the mark of such a state? It is an acceptance of poor quality. Why might we so easily slip into it? As Agnes Martin said “In our minds there is an awareness of perfection”. It is a seldom-conscious, alway present target for us. R Buckmaster Fuller, the engineer, designer and architect, explained it strongly as “When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” Failure to achieve that sense of beauty leaves us self-critical and lacking in energy.
Spiritual satisfaction was mooted by Aristotle as “The soul never thinks without a picture”. There are two conditions needed to conjure up such an image: freedom and lack of great fear. Bertrand Russell made the point vigorously when he said “Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear”. So far the Ukrainians have possibly begun to prove him wrong on that point but there is a long way to go yet, I am afraid.
Perhaps Bob Dylan put it best when he wrote “I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom”. It is a sobering thought that in today’s world these fundamentals of our existence have become more urgently relevant once again.
To save the world from multiple threats we must each work out our own contribution to spirituality.
Is your spirituality bringing you the clarity of vision needed to make your contribution?
Please write to me if you’d like to at firstname.lastname@example.org.