We've been hearing a lot lately about people who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. Whenever I hear that, I think of Marcus Borg's The Heart of Christianity. In it, he develops an idea that he credits Huston Smith for initiating: ". . . religion is to spirituality as institutions of learning are to education" (p. 219). You could do it all yourself in the arena of religion/spirituality or learning/education. You could read books and pray and teach yourself all kinds of things. But why deny yourself the resources and community of the institution?
We tend to think that spiritual but not religious types are operating all on their own, doing their own thing, finding God in the sunsets and beach walks and forests of the world. But a recent book review in The New York Times suggests it may not be true.
It's actually a review of 3 books, but the last one by Courtney Bender, The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination, addresses the issue of the solitary spiritual person. They're often not working in isolation the way that popular culture would have us all believe: "They 'participated in everything from mystical discussion groups to drumming circles to yoga classes,' Dr. Bender said in an interview. And her finding that spirituality 'is not sui generis,' but rather learned in communities that persist over time, actually runs contrary to spiritual people’s conceptions of themselves, she said. 'There is something in the theology of spiritual groups that actually refocuses their practitioners from thinking about how they fit into a long continuous spirituality.'”
She then goes on to explore these communities, from alternative medicine to the arts. Hurrah! The arts are included.
I, of course, began to wonder if some of the arts, the more communal arts, lead to a more spiritual connection than others. That may be a subject for another book. I suspect it won't be the focus of Bender's book. But I plan to read this book anyway.
And I plan to bookmark this idea about the arts, communal practice, and spiritual development. You might say this book has already been written, but I am not so sure. I do have sociologist Robert Wuthnow's Creative Spirituality: The Way of the Artist--I read it years ago, and it didn't answer the questions I had then.
Will it now? Originally, I read it looking for insights about arts programs in churches, which I didn't find. As I scanned it again just now, it seems that he's looking at artists who are not working in community, at least not ostensibly. I, of course, would argue that almost all of us are working in community. But a dance troupe does have more of a communal sense than the solitary writer or musician.
And then there is my larger question: can an artistic community bring a spiritual artist back to a more institutional religion?
feeling the feelings…
9 months ago