In the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, writer Elizabeth Gilbert gives up her entire way of life to spend a year traveling the world, finding spiritual enlightenment along the way. Julia Roberts, who plays Gilbert’s character in the movie version out this week, apparently found enlightenment of her own through the role, revealing that she has become a practicing Hindu.
As Joan Ball asks in a Guest Voices post, “Is it possible to live a life of deep, transformational faith without dropping everything and hitting the road?”
In your tradition, what is the aim of the spiritual journey?
We do religion all our lives and then we come to a place where we ask what it all means. What is religion? What does it matter? What do we believe, honestly? How is it different from what we have been taught? It is not a comfortable place to be, but entering the “dark night of the soul” causes us to take a journey we did not know we would take, and the aim is to find answers to questions that may or may not be readily available.
Doing religion is different than finding one’s spiritual core, one’s center. Growing up for example, I was taught that one does not question God. That posed a problem as there were plenty of things I noticed growing up that I did not understand and I wanted and needed answers.
I began a spiritual journey. I didn’t need to travel literally, but I did have to travel metaphorically. Finding God means, often, moving.
Faced with wondering about questioning God, I began to read the Bible for myself and noticed that the psalmists questioned God all the time. “Why are you afar off?” they asked? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The questions were clear and, as far as I could see, those who asked the questions had not been doomed and damned to hell. Rather, it seemed that their freedom to ask questions deepened their relationship with God. I began to ask questions; I entered just one phase of my spiritual journey.
The more we “do religion,” the more we stand to lose God. Religion and God seem to be polar opposites in so many cases. God is loving and inclusive; religion is judgmental and exclusive. God is merciful; religion is wont to show mercy. The disconnect between religion and God becomes bothersome, as a boil that will not burst, and the spiritual journey begins to make the pus stop accumulating, to make the boil burst of all of the religious toxins that have blocked us from God. We begin, or I began, to travel away from the source of the infection. Looking for God for me meant I no longer wanted to be infected with untruths that were passed off as Truth.
The journey is spontaneous and a little impulsive. Once we get to God, or think we do, what? Who is this God? No cleric, no priest or pastor can tell someone who God is. One has to find God in his or her own way. One has to go deep inside, become quiet, and listen for the “still, small voice” that is God. It is such a private journey, such a difficult journey, involving us trekking through a brutal wilderness made by human experiences.
I am United Church of Christ. I am also African American. Neither of those facts, however, have a thing to do with the aim of my spiritual journey. The aim of the journey I am on now is to find out who God made me to be, what God wants me to do. My journey has come in stages; I traverse a few miles, and then, exhausted, I have to stop and absorb what I have received. The aim, though, is to get through the wilderness made thick by life, by religion, and by the contradictions I have felt between what I think God to be and how God has been represented by religion and its dogma and doctrine.
I remember someone talking about “self actualization” and being concerned because the phrase seemed to leave God out. The aim of my spiritual journey is to get God front and center, and then to live my life with God in that position, not on the periphery and not hidden somewhere.
The goal is not to be “holy.” The goal is to be in alignment with this God whom I think we will forever try to understand.