In this existential chapter, writer Seth Fertenbaugh asks me to return to my reading and research of others ideas around belief, religion and spirituality. By contrast and compare and engaging in text and in community with others in spiritual gatherings, I inched closer to a belief system of my own making.
Preface: My Bias
I’m an atheist. I’ve been an atheist since my early teens. My arrival at this position was a combination of growing up in the Catholic Church and finding logical flaws in many of the arguments purported in Sunday Mass; spending a year reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelations as well as biblical scholarship; developing an interest in science, history, and philosophy; and my growing uneasiness with the idea of a personal, loving God existing concurrently with the reality of evil in the world. Over the years, my position has matured but the basic core of my beliefs has remained constant: there is a serious lack of evidence to support the existence of God. Or as Bertrand Russell stated, when asked what he would say to God if confronted with him: “God, why did you make the evidence for your existence so insufficient?”
That being said, why would I volunteer to participate in the chapter on spirituality? Despite my lack of belief in all things supernatural, religion and other manifestations of spirituality have always been a topic of interest for me. One aspect of religion that I consider important to the development of a person (though it is not the exclusive dominion of religion) is quiet meditative introspection (i.e. prayer). That is not to say that community is not as important, but whereas prior chapters (September excluded) have been more outwardly expressive, I wanted this chapter on spirituality to be more internally reflective and self-examining.
The Task: The Trinity
Reflection through study: I’ve provided a selection of religious texts for you to read to provide you with a diverse though extremely limited introduction to religion and how people of a spiritual worldview translate their feelings into words. Even though this is not a comprehensive survey of world religious texts, I’ve tried to represent both Western and Eastern religious traditions and I think these are all important texts to read. (I encourage you to read further.) Write and reflect on what you are reading.
- Week 1: Old Testament – Genesis (read Chapters 1-11)
- Week 2: New Testament – The Revelation of John
- Week 3: Taoism – Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
- Week 4: Buddhism – Silence by John Cage (read Lecture on Nothing & Lecture on Something)
*A note on my selection of texts: In regards to the biblical readings, excluding the Christ story, Genesis and Revelations are, in my opinion, the two most influential Books of the Bible. The Tao Te Ching is the most important text of Taoism and espouses an interesting theme of action through inaction. I chose John Cage to represent Buddhism, not because I couldn’t find a sufficient Buddhist text, but because I thought you might find it interesting to reflect on how an artist (musician) whose life and music was thoroughly influenced by Buddhism translated his spirituality into thoughts and words. I also encourage you to listen to his works to capture the full experience.
Reflection through mediation: All religions involve some type of introspective practice. Whether it is reciting scripted prayers or quiet mediation, reflection on God, the community, and the Self are essential to spirituality. So your task is to set aside 5-20 minutes twice a day (morning & evening) for prayer/mediation. The form and location of this mediation can be of your choosing and it can change from morning to evening and/or day-to-day. It can be silent mediation in the traditional Zen fashion (as you did earlier in this project) or a recitation of the Rosary. Regardless of the form, this should be a twice-daily ritual. As John Cage wrote, “In Zen they say: If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. Eventually one discovers that it’s not boring at all but very interesting.”
Reflection through participation: And so as not to make this chapter a completely introspective task, here is the community element. Community building and cohesiveness is an important aspect of religion, so your task is to attend one religious service this month. It can be a Catholic Mass or a Wiccan ceremony, whatever is available to you, and if possible speak to the participants about their spiritual experience.
Conclusion: Alpha and Omega
I hope whatever you cull from this month’s chapter (and this project in general) that it serves you moving beyond Living Chapters. Despite my own beliefs, I think there are wellsprings of creative and mollifying resources in daily introspective reflection. I don’t feel this type of mediation needs a supernatural or religious structure to be beneficial to an individual, but that is a path each person has to navigate for themselves. As Lao Tzu wrote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Hopefully, this experience and this project will be an important step in that journey.
Hi Beth! We are excited to be part of this month’s Living Chapter focusing on spirituality/existential. As you comb through sacred texts and reflect on your religious self, we want to add to the meditative component of this month’s chapter. During Alexis’ yoga teacher training a couple years, she learned about chanting as a way to lead-in to meditation. Chanting is recognized as a spiritual practice in many religions, and we hope it will add to your reflective experience for the rest of the month. So the Wild Card is quite simple: for at least one of your twice-daily meditations, start with chanting for a couple minutes. You can increase your chanting time as you like. Chants can take many forms and you can use any phrase or mantra you like. Perhaps a line from one the texts you’ve read, or a meaningful song lyric, or even just a single calming word. For your reference, we’ve recorded some examples of chants that we like. These have even come in handy for calming our baby! We hope they have the same effect for you. As you build chanting into your meditative practice, try to focus on your breathing and allow the chant to serve as an aural broom, sweeping away any thoughts and worries. We think that sound can serve a unique role in spiritual reflection and we hope it brings additional clarification and calming to your day.
Om Mani Padme:
Om Shanti Om: