Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I was at clergy meeting the other day at which a guest speaker talked about spirituality. I think, and I lost concentration at about sentence two so I may be wrong, that we were being encouraged to make time for our own spirituality in order to sustain ourselves in our demanding roles.

I used to do a job training youth leaders. From time to time this involved talking to clergy about youth-work. I discovered, quite early on, that if I talked specifics I often got the reply 'That won't work here mate and I'll tell you why.' Not always so politely. So I spoke in general terms and principles and allowed others to do the application to their local situation. This had some success.

I think this is what our guest speaker was doing the other day although her precise generalisations (can't believe I wrote that, sorry) were hard to pin down. Elusive wisps of thoughts and ideas came and went, every one of them, sending my mind off on a journey to a better place. Maybe this is what a spirituality adviser should do. But the result was that when we were asked to respond to what she had said I had no idea what the question was. It seemed that most others in the room, with the exception of some of the more recently ordained clergy, knew what to talk about at this point.

The more they spoke the more I thought I wouldn't because I would seem weird. I get this a lot. So I wrote a bit. This usually helps. Just now I found my notes. It occurs to me that discovering others who saw the world my way might be an encouragement. So here, with a bit of tidying, is what I wrote:

What sort of spirituality do you identify with?
Which do you prefer? I do not engage with life as a series of preferences. My life is not especially binary, digital. If given a series of choices I will often make one, but not out of long-term established principle; merely then and there. Tea or coffee? Chips or mash?  Bath or shower? Silence or company? Read or write? Mercedes or VW? (That one's real, current and hard.)

If given a choice of yellow and any other colour, yellow will usually lose. But asked to choose between any other two colours I will probably not have a favourite.

Our speaker just said, 'If I am not astonished (by the world) I am not paying attention.' What has astonished me this week? Nothing. Some people find this question easy. I am not often shocked (although I don't like horror movies so tend to avoid trying to be shocked) and the opposite is also true. I am rarely astonished. Being astonished has just been equated with paying attention. I think I am permanently curious but rarely astonished. The world has a consistency about it such that only the miraculous and street magic (trickery) astonishes me. Since 'astonished' is such a wrong word for me I find the question hard.

So I won't usually hate a week but neither will I instantly and clearly be able to tell you what was the best bit. I wonder if seeing the world in terms of being rather than doing (which I be) makes it peculiarly difficult to identify the best doings of the week. What was the best bit of last week? Being me. It was great. I have eyes and opposable thumbs. Ain't that the dogs?

So what is my response to questions such as, 'What sort of spirituality do you identify with?' It's difficult. All of them. None of them.

If there are any people out there who understand this and would like to talk about it please get in touch. Use the comments box, tweet @s1eve or pick any other way you know.

And nobody mentioned Jesus, once.


David Keen said...

Thank goodness its not just me. I find most talks on spirituality to be a series of abstract verbs strung together in random order. That's why I now generally avoid the Diocesan Advent retreats.

I enjoy slowing down and having quiet days and things like that, but if I didn't have any activity to retreat from, or contemplate, then I suspect I'd just find it very frustrating.

Anonymous said...

Is this spirituality or personality? If you are more comfortable acknowledging the expression of emotion within a more defined range then is it not like playing a piece on the piano but only using the middle 4 octaves? In my experience when we have felt some of the depths of sorrow, despair and fear at the preciousness and fragility of life and relationship, the highs of simple expressions of love, beautiful moments, nature, honest and meaningful friendhip are even higher. It is like playing all 8 octaves, the low and the high notes. Inversely finding joy in sorrow.Someone told me this when the world had fallen from beneath my feet.It took me a while to understand what they meant but it was true for me. However how much can we choose our response and how much is borne out of personality and circumstance? I'm happy to debate! Caroline

Skepticle said...

I identify with spirituality type 3f, how 'bout you?

St said...

Sorry, I don't know what test this refers to. 3f?

Revsimmy said...

Having fairly recently exposed myself to almost eight weeks (!) of Ignatian spirituality I can identify with a lot of what you say here. Don't get me wrong - I loved it and am so glad that I did it. But a lot of it was quite hard going, especially at the beginning. It all fell into place for me when my director asked what my Myers Briggs type was and I realised that I was NT (intuitive thinker) trying to make sense of something often expressed in SF (sensing/feeling) terms. So with Anonymous above, I think it is often a personality thing.

Once I understood that, I found that I could access some of the more SF stuff through my writing (journal and poems - I wrote a lot of poetry which is unusual for me) and through other artistic means. I suspect your instinct to write was your own approach to this.

I also agree with your reaction to the word "astonished." It does seem to me to be the wrong word to use.

Your speaker was right about one thing, though. Mindfulness (which what I think the "astonishment thing is really about) and creativity take time to nurture, certainly for me.

Revsimmy said...

And nobody mentioned Jesus, once

I'm very sorry and annoyed to hear it. Fortunately, St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises mention Jesus A LOT and really helped me find focus on the meaning of the Gospel. If one's spirituality isn't doing that then, as a Christian, one is missing the point.