Spirituality of Depth
Thomas Moore is the author of Care of the Soul (1992), Soulmates (1990), and The Reenchantment of Everyday Life (1996). His most recent book is The Soul of Sex (1998), published by Harper Collins.
The spirit is a creative and dangerous thing. Without spirit we have no vision, no impulse to move forward, no energy to make and do, no curiosity about the world and ourselves, and no need to live well and make our contribution. As a participant in a recent class of mine put it, without spirit we muck around in the soul. And yet, at the same time, spirit wages war, tramples all fellows on the way to success, trumpets its superiority, holds all to its vision, and falls into rigid literalizations of authority, tradition, language, and hierarchy. At times one wonders if the creativity of the spirit is worth the ravages of its aggressiveness.
At thirteen I left the comforts of home to enter a Catholic monastery, where I learned something about the beauty and joy of the spiritual life and also suffered the blows of its jealous authoritarianism and its numbness to ordinary human pleasures. I learned the beauty of spiritual architecture, music, literature, ritual, and the ordered life. But I also learned the sternness of authorities, their mistrust of family life, the rigidity of belief, and the masochistic delights of self-denial. The upward-directed spirit seems to love hierarchies and organizations and has a deep distrust of organic, familial, unfolding life.
But this spiritual urge toward transcendence--the desire for higher consciousness, enlightenment, truth, and uncontaminated moral purity--is only one brand of spirituality. There are other ways to be spiritual, ways that don't aim so high and therefore don't risk distancing themselves from the humanity found in the human body, the family, nature, and the ordinary life. Spirit emerges, or as tradition sometimes says, emanates from ordinary things and situations, just as a certain kind of spirit rises up in a football stadium or at a family gathering.
Interestingly, the spirituality that rises from ordinary life has often been ritualized and celebrated in religion. Marriage is a familiar example. The spiritual aspects of marriage become visible in courtship rituals and then in the deep human urge to give weddings strong religious, family, and social potency. This spirituality, rising from ordinary days of married life, marked by rites and habits proper to a particular marriage, honored at anniversaries and celebrated in the rites of sex, witnesses to the depth of the married life.
A family has its own spirituality found in its old and developing stories, the characters of past and present, living and dead, who represent its saints and rogues. Family gatherings, especially when focused on food and storytelling (gossip, remembrances, problems), have a sacramental quality. The family dinner table is a genuine breaking of bread, and the break-up of family cohesiveness causes a loss of spirituality. The simple neglect of common meals and traditional gatherings shrivels the soul, which needs unspectacular spiritual nourishment the way the body needs food.
Nature, of course, exhales a spirituality that can be healing and restoring and can mediate our need for the sublime and for divinity itself. Nature is particular as well in its spiritual expression. A river exudes a spirituality different in quality from that of a mountain or a desert or an ocean or a tree or a spring. …