Spirituality, can we go deep without one another?

What do you think? Is spirituality most authentic in solitude? Or is there an intrinsic communal element to deeper journeys? What’s your response to these New Testament instructions?

Romans 12:10 – Honor one another
Romans 12:16 – Live in harmony with one another
Romans 15:7 – Accept one another
Romans 15:14 – Instruct one another
Romans 16:16 – Greet one another
Galatians 5:13 – Serve one another
Ephesians 4:2  – Be patient … with one another
Ephesians 4:32 – Be kind and compassionate to one another
Ephesians 5:19 – Speak to one another with psalms
Ephesians 5:21 – Submit to one another
Colossians 3:13 – Forgive … one another
Colossians 3:16 – Admonish one another
1 Thessalonians 5:11 – Encourage one another
Hebrews 10:24 – Spur one another on toward love
James 4:11 – Do not slander one another
1 Peter 4:9 – Offer hospitality to one another
1 John 1:7 – Have fellowship with one another
2 John 1:5 – Love one another

11 thoughts on “Spirituality, can we go deep without one another?”

  1. Hi Matt. Happy vacation. Been following the blog for awhile. Particularly love the artwork on the right column. I’m commenting now ’cause you hit a raw spot for me.
    Love Kalessin’s comment.
    I think “Individual spirituality” is one of the biggest lies of our time. We get ‘personal’ faith and ‘private faith’ mixed up. I think Christian faith (that’s the one I know best) is always a deeply ‘personal’ thing but can never be genuinely Christian if it remains ‘private’. Your list of verses points out at least one element of that – we have responsibilities to one another within the body of Christ.
    Here’s one way this confusion manifests… I’m an English language pastor in Bangkok. I get a huge number of people asking me to perform their wedding ceremony.
    I always ask about church involvement (whatever that may be). It’s amazing how many of these people say their Christianity is a private thing. They feel no need to discuss it or practice it with other people.
    I AM convinced it is important to them. I make people jump through a lot of wedding ceremony hoops before agreeing to perform a wedding. Those just wanting a ‘western style’ ceremony quickly walk away. So at some level, this Christian thing is important to them and they are sincere.
    My confusion is and I challenge them on this, “If it’s a private thing that needs no community involvement then why do you want a religious service with community to be present with you at your wedding ceremony?”
    I’ve never heard a good answer other than “Oh. I guess I’ve been wrong all these years about it.”

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  2. Good question, Matt. I find that this is the same old situation concerning knowing and doing. There are those who just keep learning and learning and learning but never seem to get around to doing what they have learned.
    The catch is that doing what has been learned about living loved by the Father is wrapped up in how we behave with others. It is one of those “subjects” with a lab element….
    I’ve been spending lots of time in the “home” lab recently–both personally with God and with those who know the real me. I am pondering authenticity a lot these days and how so much of what is considered “community” is really “pseudo-“. I believe community that is authentic in larger groups can only be possible if it really happens to all those folks in very small groups.
    Whatever you call it, the loving of the one anothers is a labor of love, literally. And the only way we can ever hope to be successful is if we learn to accept the love God has for us first … that labor of love that cost the life and death of his only son.
    …I’m processing….
    Happy New Year!

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  3. I think that there is something to be said for both ways, personally or in community, of experiencing spirituality/faith/religion/etc. Human beings are social creatures and there is a great need to share our experiences with one another, while together in groups or when we are share the experience after it happens by way of discussion. But does that experience always need to be shared to be authentic or deep? No.
    The distinction of personal vs. private made by Stewart is a good one. However, I don’t think that every aspect of personal belief needs to be made public to be considered “genuinely Christian” (or another faith, for that matter). Sharing your experiences within a common group does enhance the experiences you have though.

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  4. But does that experience always need to be shared to be authentic or deep?
    I think there’s a deeper question to be asked there. Are spiritual experiences an end in themselves, and should they be sought for their own experience?
    Some of your comments suggest that you might answer that question in the affirmative. (If I’m wrong, please let me know.) On the other hand, I tend to answer it in the negative.
    To me, the whole point of spiritual experiences is to change me, to affect how I see the world and interact with it. For example, my spiritual experiences tend to leave me with a desire to be more compassionate and loving, and to be generally be a better person.
    It’s nearly impossible to be compassionate and loving without community, though. I need someone to be compassionate and loving towards someone. And since morality generally involves how we interact with other people, I need to interact with other people to actually be a better person. Otherwise, I’m just a person who may or may not be better.
    Another example I’d give is the issue of passion. Passion is a pretty important thing to me, as I’m a devotee of Freyja. (I’m not actually sure if there’s a causal relationship between those two facts, let alone which one caused the other.) Many of my spiritual experiences with her fill me with a great deal of passion and gusto for life. And again, that’s something that needs an outlet for expression. While I certainly have solo pursuits of passion — such as writing — passion in all it’s forms are often much better shared. Even though I can pursue writing a new story on my own with gusto, there’s something special when I turn around and share the results of that pursuit with my fellow friends. And of course, then there are just certain activities where sharing the experience is all a part of the passion and enhances it.
    So to me, it’s not so much about sharing the specific spiritual experiences or discussing them, but sharing the fruits that those experiences have born out. Because my spiritual experiences inspire me to action, and that action often involves other people. So in that sense, community is extremely important.
    Of course, one of the things I always note is that I can share those fruits with a very diverse community. This is one of the reasons why I’ve struggled with concepts like “Christian community” and “Pagan community” lately. I can be compassionate towards a non-Pagan. I may not be able to agree with them on a particular interpretation of why compassion is important or what the source of compassion ultimately is. But I can certainly share and cherish the virtue of compassion with them.

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  5. Stewart, been reading and rereading your challenge: “if it’s a private thing … then why do you want a religious service with community to be present with you at your wedding ceremony?” Yes indeed, Christianity is so irreducibly communal that even when you gut it, community is still imprinted on the bones.

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  6. Peggy, yeah, I agree community is only sustainable in larger groups if those larger groups are composed of smaller groups. Groups of groups if you will. Surface area to volume ratio is critical. An undifferentiated large group is not a community, it’s a mob. I’m not anti megachurch per se, but I’d have concerns for anyone who was part of a megachurch without being part of a cell group.

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  7. S. Nichole, just to clarify, I am not suggesting that private practice should not be part of Christian practice. I am merely suggesting that Christian practice cannot be reduced to that, that something crucial is lost if it is.
    To put it another way, it is fine for Christians to practice solitude AS PART OF a holistic practice, but to be a solitary Christian, to practice Christianity COMPLETELY APART FROM community, is a bit of an oxymoron.
    And note, I am not suggesting this applies to other spiritual traditions. I am aware the solitary path is considered quite legitimate for other religions. I am limiting my comments to Christianity alone.

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  8. Jarred, I am with you there. Christian spirituality definitely leads me to place life transformation above ecstatic experience. It’s not that I’m against ecstatic experience – quite the contrary, I value it immensely – but it’s not an end in itself.
    But for me this is not unrelated from the Christian tendancy to place Apostolic revelation above personal revelation, so I find it intruiging that you echo it yourself, coming as you do from a very different path. You’ve broadened my understanding of Paganism.
    As for diverse community, my own understanding is both alike and unlike yours in certain respects. For me there is community and COMMUNITY. I can share love with those who have a different understanding of love (and I hope that’s something you experience here), but personally I find this takes on a deeper dimension when practiced amongst those who share the same understanding of love. Get the drift?

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  9. I’m glad to hear I’ve broadened your understanding, Matt. 😉 I admit, however, that I’m not sure what the Christian tendency to place Apostalic revelation over personal revelation has to do with not seeing spiritual experiences as an end in themselves, though. Maybe you could elaborate on that at some point.
    I think I understand what you mean about something taking on a deeper dimension with more like-minded people, yes.

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  10. To elaborate, Christians have traditionally taught that “special” revelation (that is, knowledge of God passed on through scripture) takes priority over “general” revelation (that is, knowledge of God discerned through alternative sources, sources including nature, philosophy and personal experience). This implies that experience, while not irrelevant, is not primary for knowledge of God. This is very much tied into our understanding of Christ as God incarnate, and it’s not hard to see why a Pagan would find this objectionable.
    You will find similar lines of thought in Christian teaching about life transformation, and again it is tied into our understanding of Christ as God incarnate. We believe are saved by God’s grace, irrespective of how deeply we actually experience God’s grace. In a sense, transformation is objective (through Christ) before it becomes subjective (in us). This is why teaching that we must experience Gifts of the Spirit like “speaking in tongues” before we can be said to have the Spirit, or teaching that we must have a mystical experience before we can be said to be “one with God”, generally stirs up a hornets nest in Christian circles. The apostle Paul touches on much of this in the much preached 1 Corinthians 13 passage: if we prophecy and heal but have not love, our spirituality comes to nothing. It suggests that relationship takes priority over prowess, and that what is important is becoming Christlike, not the fireworks.

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