Course On Spirituality

Summer 2003

     The word "spirituality" fills the consciousness of many people with skepticism, reticence and timidity.  The concept appears to have associations with what has been labeled, "The New Age Movement" or "The Human Potential Movement."  Before the 1980s, "Humanism" often caused concerned believers to circle their wagons to defend against such thought patterns.  Anything that appeared to challenge the traditional belief system of Christianity has never been deemed a friend of the Church.

     The dilemma the Church faces today is its inability to get beyond itself. Christians are entering a world filled with people crying for new definitions of century old traditions that try the patience of people who are increasingly thinking for themselves.

     Pluralism appears to reign in many quarters, causing the faithful in the Church to make a decision between two paths: 1) Become more deeply entrenched in the orthodox belief system that has stood the test of time, or 2) Develop a means of communicating a more universal message that may be embraced by humankind without all the encumbrances placed on belief systems by organized religion.

     What is bleeding through humankind's consciousness is that most religions are developmentally disadvantaged.  While they have stood the test of time, the world's great religions are becoming less and less attractive to people who are trying to cope with the accelerating pace and demands of life.

     People who claim, "Our faith works for us!" are by far a minority.  The world is filled with millions upon millions of people who show signs of acute spiritual malnutrition.  Such deprivation is driving many people to seek escape, e.g. into martyrdom, the Internet, alcohol, drugs and sexual addictions, psychotropic medications and therapy.

     Even people who have sought their spiritual treasure in wealth and fame eventually discover that once this dream has been fulfilled, it is not enough to quell the emptiness that still awakens them in the night. Alas, all the roads this world offers lead nowhere.

     We live in a world of cyber, nuclear and biological terrorism, suicide bombers and religious ideologies that fuel fanaticism. An idea whose time has come is the study of spirituality as a scientific discipline.  Our very identity has been the property of religious institutions and dogmas for thousands of years.  The time has come to paint outside the lines of our respective traditions.

     Spirituality is not a religion, but has been experienced by men and women in every culture.  The question everyone must answer is this: "Who do I wish to be as I experience my life's circumstances?"   Rich and poor, young and old, people of various ethnic backgrounds, all face the same spiritual issues.  Each person brings to life a belief system that allows their spirit to radiate through their personality.  Spirituality is the study of what makes that spirit radiate in the way that it does.

     In the course outline that follows, there is more than enough material to fill a semester's worth of study. This course does not seek to tell anyone what to believe.  It encourages people to think for themselves.

     Whether we are a faithful Christian, Jew, Hindu or an avowed atheist, our lives are governed by beliefs that either serve us by enhancing the quality of our lives or cause our life-force to be delayed in its evolution.  For example, the goal of material wealth may not bring with it the power of being peaceful in all circumstances.  The goal of being sexually active with numerous partners will never produce the relational skills necessary to create a love bond that prevents the illusion of greener pastures. In pursuing the path toward power and fame, we may not develop a single quality that contributes to our character development.  Maintaining our physical stamina and beauty is not sufficient to equip our identities to flourish long after our bloom has faded.  The interesting aspect of God's creation is that we cannot define its breadth and depth.  It will be what it is regardless of what we believe about it.  The Will of God will remain the same for the "least of these" as well as for those who have surrendered to their notion of God and have become inflamed by their evangelical zeal.

     The understanding that salvation will be universally applied to everyone should give humanity great hope.  The moment we fail to welcome into our midst a fallen brother or sister, we reveal who we have become.  The moment we refuse to live in Hell, however we characterize that experience, we demonstrate our unwillingness to be a light in darkness.  Who we are is always very clear.  The question is, "Do we wish to evolve"?

     Tim Galway wrote:

When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as "rootless and stemless."   We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed.

When it first shoots up out of the earth, we do not condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear.  We stand in wonder at the process taking place, and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development.

The rose is a rose from the time it is born until the time it dies.  Within it, at all times, is contained its whole potential.  It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each stage, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.

     These words describe a metaphor for life.  Every living thing has everything it needs inside for it to achieve its highest potential. It needs no saviors for it to be what it is.  If only the world community would live the wisdom that it knows in its heart of hearts, humanity would thrive.  Erasmus in 1530 CE once wrote, "Truly the yoke of Christ would be sweet if petty human institutions added nothing more to what he himself imposed.  He commanded us nothing save love for one another."

     The study of Spirituality will lead humanity to discover that loving energy is creative and dynamic.  It forces nothing. It asks absolutely nothing of anyone. It can neither be hurt nor offended by what others do during their journey to find meaning and purpose for their lives.  Yet it supports, guides, teaches and instructs those who are open to pouring new wine into new wineskins.  Spirituality is universal.  Everyone has entered the earth with a spirit that is initially imprinted by family, culture and educational elements.  Our task is to awaken and outgrow the imprinting so that we can flourish and become the one-of-a-kind we were designed to be.  God is at work in every life, in every culture and in every belief system.

     M.A.C. Warren wrote:

We need to approach every religion with a deep humility, by which we remember that God has not left Himself without a witness in any nation at any time.   When we approach people of another faith, it should be in a spirit of expectancy.  We need to listen for how God has been speaking to them and what new understanding of God's grace and love we may discover from them.  Our first task in approaching others, another culture or another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are standing is holy ground.  If we do not, we may find ourselves treading on people's dreams.  More serious still, we may neglect remembering that God was here before our arrival.

     Humanity's collective study of Spirituality will be challenging in the beginning.  Wisdom will no longer come from a source that is codified or deified as sacred or the Word of God.  Its guidance will receive its authority from the collective will of us all, the very manner in which Hebrew and Christian Scriptures were collected.  Spiritual understanding will no longer be imparted by priests, but by masters who enter the classroom at every university in the land.  They will teach the creativity of harnessing the vast power found in loving energy.  This information can be taught and applied to life with striking results, thus proving its authority in human experience.

     Prince Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha, 563-483 B.C.) wrote:

Do not believe what you have heard. Do not believe in tradition because it has been handed down for many generations.  Do not believe in anything that has been spoken of many times.  Do not believe because the written statements come from some old sage.  Do not believe in conjecture.  Do not believe in authority or teachers or elders.  Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, UNLESS it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.  After careful observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and it will benefit one and all, then accept it and live by it.

     My hope is that each of you will find at least one nugget of truth that may nourish your spirit to grow beyond where it is today.  My hope is that you will begin to see each new day as a diamond to be polished.  My hope is for you to contemplate that God never wired any of us for failure, regardless of what you have been taught.  Finally, my hope is for you to understand that Jesus would have never taught what he did, if his promised skills of Spirit were impossible to achieve.  Some of the thoughts in the lessons that follow may offend some of your cherished beliefs.  Some thoughts may be concepts with which you will disagree.  Everything you feel and think is fine.  Each of you is on schedule, engaged in the process of fulfilling God's will at your own pace on your own spiritual path.  Our beliefs about this process will not stand in the way of God's will being fulfilled in each of our lives.  Nothing can ever prevent God's will from being done.  May this course touch your life, inspiring you to consider your relationship with God more thoughtfully.  May this course enable you to embrace the blessed creature that you are.  Always remember, "And God looked at all that He had made and, indeed, it was very good." (Genesis 1:31).

     As with everything on our Web site, readers are invited to take from it freely and use the material any way they wish. Build on it; expand it!  Perhaps some of these ideas combined with your own will serve others searching for a source of nourishment in their spiritual development and identity.  Perhaps a renaissance will begin as more seeds are sown, enhanced by your wisdom.  Enjoy your journey!

Dick Stetler,
Fellow Traveler