Spirituality and Types

Let me tell you how I learned to stop worrying and love spirituality.

Some of you might remember Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 movie, “Dr. Strangelove.” It was a black comedy satirizing the prevalent fear of the time: nuclear bombs. The subtitle was, you may remember, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”

Life sometimes hits like a bomb, blows up the world as we have known it: the loss of a loved one, traumatic tragedy. Bombs are fearful things: the nuclear bombs with which nations threaten whole populations, and the little explosions inside handguns that propel bullets for neighbor to kill neighbor, and the in-between bombs that ripped the Boston Marathon – and our hearts. The bombshell of violence shakes and saddens our souls.

Life also explodes in beauty: the birth of a child, the arrival of spring.

How do we learn to ease the worry and bring love to the bombs we fear? How do we learn to stop worrying and love...everything...even the hard parts?

It calls for development of such spiritual virtues as equanimity and compassion, the cultivation of which beyond our native dispositions is a slow and unsteady business in the best of circumstances.

This spirituality, though, might be itself the bomb we fear. It was for me. I’m the first-born child of rationalist humanist academic parents. I grew up and went into the family business: being a rationalist humanist academic. If you’d said “spirituality” to me 20 years ago, the image that would have come to mind would have been of someone like the fictional character, Cecelia Ringling.

In a recent Roland Merullo novel, Otto and Cecelia Ringling are siblings. Otto is 44, competent at his job, common-sensical, no-nonsense, straightforward, and upbeat, devoted to his family: a wife and two teenagers. Otto makes a comfortable living. But his sister Cecelia, four years younger, barely scrapes by in her line of work. Cecelia’s line of work is indicated by the lavender and cream sign in front of her house:
“Cecelia Ringling, Tarot and palm readings, Past-life regressions, Spiritual journeyings.”
“’Journeyings,’” mutters Otto. “What kind of word is that?” Otto describes his sister as: “a nice enough woman who is as flaky as a good spanakopita crust.” Otto has all the spiritual development he is inclined to want, and has little interest in “the types of things my sister was always talking about: synchronicity, psychic wavelengths, auras, healing energies.” And the aforementioned tarot and palm reading and past-life regressions. We might add things like astrology, reiki, healing touch, séances, psychic powers, astral projection, crystals, pyramids, channeling – what Otto calls, “all the frizz-frazz of people who couldn’t deal with solid reality.” Cecelia has a penchant for “floppy, too colorful dresses” and “sandals that were supposed to massage your acupuncture points and keep you free of illness.”

You recognize these types, don’t you? These characters are archetypes of the contemporary scene. We Unitarian Universalists have our Otto types who think of themselves as oriented toward dealing with solid reality and not escaping into magical thinking and woo-woo, new-agey stuff. We also have our Cecelia types here. What seems to Otto to be dealing with solid reality seems to our Cecelia-types to be limiting oneself to a very narrow, restricted portion of reality.

We also have a lot of folks who are kinda in-between, I guess you could say. These are the folks who would never pay good money for an astrological forecast, but in their medicine chest is a bottle of herbal pills the benefits of which, the asterisk explains, “have not been verified by the FDA.”

* * *
This is part 2 of 6 of "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Spirituality"
Part 1: "This Is It: Atheist Spirituality"
Part 3: "The Class Atheist"
Part 4: "Self-Transcendence, Huh? What Is It Good For?"
Part 5: "But Do You Have a Spiritual Practice?"
Part 6: "Woooo-Hoooo"

No comments:

Post a Comment