Tuesday, June 07, 2005

a new reality show featuring spirituality

Dr. Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney in England and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College in Oxford, has written a concise and sound definition of what spirituality should entail for all of us. He writes partly as a review of the new reality show called "Spirituality Shopper" on BBC's Channel 4 which first aired yesterday in the UK.

The whole premise of the show does sound rather odd if not a tad tacky: they follow individuals as they "shop" around for spirituality. That's spirituality, as opposed to a church or a religion. For some people spirituality can be engaged in without the rigors of religious dogma. So spirituality becomes mainly experiential. And therefore, it is more palatable for some people who are perhaps turned off by the "dogmatism" of some of the religions out there, especially Christianity, and especially Roman Catholicism.

This led Dr. Fraser to write: "Spirituality has become the acceptable face of religion. It offers a language for the divine that dispenses with all the off-putting paraphernalia of priests and church." Yes, why bother with priests and their parochial ways when you can experience the spiritual on your own? Why bother with rules, with liturgical norms, with pronouncements from the Vatican, or from Lambeth, and with dogmas and doctrines?

The reason why one bothers is because spirituality and religion go hand-in-hand. Spirituality without religion is like a song without a voice; and religion without spirituality is like a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

The spiritual writers who have most to offer us are precisely those who are soundly rooted in concrete teachings, doctrines, and beliefs. For instance, the last spiritual author featured on this blog's ongoing "spiritual voice" series, Lev Gillet, was able to offer a remarkably inspiring reflection on the Eucharist as a fruit of his meditation on the prescribed liturgical actions of the priest during Divine Liturgy. Thomas Merton's insightful words on contemplation is based on his recognition of the "Paschal Mystery"--the Church's doctrine that through Christ's life, death, and resurrection, salvation has been won for all of humanity; and that the faithful are enjoined to participate in this Mystery. And François Fénelon's writing on "Christian Perfection" is rooted in his faith in the perfection and the indivisibility of the Godhead, the Trinity.

Doctrine and religion, rather than stifling the intellect and infringing on freedom, allow the imagination and the soul to soar because the Object of one's spirituality is identified and discernable. And not only that, a true Christian contemplative believes that it is God's Spirit Himself within us that moves us to the spiritual, to pray, and to contemplate.

Taken on these terms, not on ours, spirituality becomes more substantial and more nourishing. It becomes not something that we merely engage in as a hobby, but rather it becomes something that sustains and properly orients us because it is grounded on the Mystery of the Person who embodies what a complete and full human being is.

As Dr. Fraser says, "For the Christians of the early church, spirituality - not that they would have called it that - was about the death of the old person and the emergence of a new identity modelled on that of Christ. It's not something that one can dip into or an intriguing and unusual fashion accessory for the person who has nearly everything."

Read more of Dr. Fraser's words here.

Powered by Blogger