“Part of the spiritual quest is to improve our ability to relate.” Reid Hoffman
Why is it that for many of us involved in some kind of religious tradition, far too much of the spiritual quest has devolved into a kind of transactional spirituality? That is, we earn spirituality through the practice of the right disciplines, rights thoughts, and right actions. If we do good and score well on our spiritual quest, we will be rewarded with deep spirituality.
The Failure of Transactional Spirituality
Something about that feels off to me. The transactional process seems to be a bit forced, as if I am coercing the Divine into a system of rewards for good behavior. It’s like getting stars for attendance and memorizations: they may look good on my growth chart but have only marginal influence on my most important activity which is deep and growing relationships with the Divine as well as with others.
In The Cloud of Unknowing, written in the 14th Century, the anonymous author approaches spirituality quite differently than we do today. He discusses at length the difference between head and heart, between knowledge and love. Knowledge and godly actions certainly lead us closer to the Divine but are insufficient for deep intimacy.
Knowledge is Like a Finger Pointing at the Moon
He writes, “God is no thing because God is beyond all things… To put it another way, the doctrines and ideas about God function as a finger pointing to the moon.” In other words, as long as we rely on thoughts and theologies, we only learn about God without ever discovering the God of intimate relationships.
The medieval mystics opted for relating with God via sometimes fuzzy experiences, most often too deep for words (ineffable). We meet God in the cloudy darkness of the unknown which requires a somewhat out of body experience. In fact, for the mystics, “experience” is the key word. Life-altering spirituality occurs only in divine intimate relations.
Born to be Relational
Isn’t that true of life in general? Before anything else we are relationally dependent with an almost insatiable need for love and acceptance… often in spite of our wayward behaviors. Love is the source of all that really matters in life. And love is a fundamental human need, the most primal of all needs.
For decades I have preached that, to me, three of the most important human needs are (1) to be heard, (2) to be cared about, and (3) to be accepted. Obviously, these three are intensely “relational needs” that are profoundly impacted in our spiritual quest for fulness and wholeness.
Yes, the heart of spirituality is a loving relationship with the Divine, with the people in our lives, and also with the people outside of our “circles” that can benefit by our kindness and compassion.
Spirituality is not Religious
Spirituality is Relational
Photo courtesy of last19 at istockphoto