Friday afternoon, I sat down with my spiritual director to talk about the future of our relationship. We had been meeting for over a year when I decided to walk away from the Christian faith, and I wanted to let him know about what had taken place. I knew things wouldn't really be the same, and had pretty much decided that participating in spiritual direction wasn't really a live option any more. But, at his request, I decided to see whether it was something I could still incorporate into my life.
Prior to the meeting, I understood "spirituality" as referring to one of two things: 1) dependence upon some variety of supernatural being(s) who give meaning and purpose to life, and the cultivating of that relationship; or 2) glorified navel-gazing and positive self-talk (à la Oprah). Since I'm not terribly interested in either of these—I no longer believe in the existence of a supernatural being, and I'm already battling enough self-interested thinking in my life—I assumed that spiritual direction would be out of the picture. After all, if I called the game of the spiritual journey a hoax, then why would I want someone to guide me on it?
The result of the conversation, however, surprised me. (More after the jump...)
Not only did my spiritual director express enthusiasm over my leaving Christianity—odd for someone who counsels Christians for a living—but he saw this as an exciting new development in my ongoing journey. I asked him about this, because, while I shared his excitement, I didn't think we had the same reasons for being excited. I tried to get him to explain how he understood spirituality. While I frankly don't remember the exact words he used, here's the impression I got:
Spirituality and the spiritual journey doesn't need god/gods. (At any rate, our notions of god tend to hold us back rather than push us forward.) Spirituality is about learning how to live most fully as a human being. This means, in part, becoming aware of ourselves, our relationships, discovering what we know and don't know, and learning how to thrive amid an often chaotic world. In many ways, spirituality is about letting go of that which hinders us in our quest to become fully human, to understand who we are (both as individuals and as societies). Spirituality is no more at home among theologians than it is philosophers or scientists or industrial workers—it belongs to all these realms, and many more.
It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that I felt I could get on board with this. After all, if I'm earnestly seeking after truth and understanding, then I should probably learn to rely upon people who seem to have a clue about these things. My spiritual director is one of them. And, since he doesn't hold too tightly to any metaphysical convictions, he's happy to let me be guided where I will, orthodoxy be damned.
At the end of our chat, I was excited, too (and for the same reasons as he was). Leaving Christianity has, in fact, brought many newfound awarenesses about myself and the world, and has released a number of constraints on my thinking. Plus, in retrospect, I can see how the spiritual direction over the last year has helped plow the field, so to speak, so that this radical change could take place. In light of this, I now see how even atheists and agnostics can take on spirituality for themselves, especially those of us who want above all to understand more fully.