Saturday, July 25, 2009

Man's Spiritual Path And The Lesson In Quaking Apens

" Star Gazer" by Santa Clara Pueblo artist Roxanne Swentzell. I love her work and she has been one of my favorite discoveries on this trip.

Here's a very good piece by Rich Heffern of the National Catholic Reporter. He makes a point I frequently make to other people who want to live a spiritual life, and it's also the biggest difference I've found between traditionalists and a whole host of others.

"I'm spiritual but not religious"
by Rich Heffern on Jul. 24, 2009

St. Francis of Assisi was wont to pray for nights on end, “Who are you, God, and who am I?” He was unable to find satisfying answers to these questions in the culture and institutions of his times.

One Sunday he was listening to a sermon in which the preacher quoted Jesus telling his followers to take nothing for their journey, to rely upon the kindness of strangers – in short, to embrace poverty as a spiritual way. Francis was galvanized. He left Mass overjoyed and committed the passages to memory, saying: “This is what I want. This is what I long for.”

Francis had noticed that whenever and wherever he encountered poverty and simplicity in his life, then his heart would warmly glow, his insides would light up with smiles. The scripture passage validated this important inner experience. His enthusiasm enkindled and his creative energies given direction, he went on to create a band of brothers who lived simply and in solidarity with the poor.

Francis took his direction in life from this inner navigation, following his deepest enthusiasm wherever it led him. He created a new way of living and working with others. His enthusiasm was the key that opened up his inner life and creativity, and then joined that life to the service of his community.

Due to the split in our religious sensibility that has plagued us for centuries, we tend to experience our spiritual traditions turned upside down. In our religion there has long been a tendency to discount our own living, our own experiences and our inner searching and questioning in favor of a top-down system of formation, direction, and organization. Ordinarily we were offered scripture, ready-made and digested theology, together with the lives of heroic individuals who lived in the past as models to emulate, and then given a creed of beliefs to memorize.

Thus armed, we were expected to venture forth “into the world” to do the best we could to cope with its slings and arrows, to meet the hard challenges of living by copying the behavior of others. Frequently the mere possession of this body of creed and knowledge was offered to us as our “passport” to salvation.

The suggestion that we might be able to directly experience the divine mystery in the midst of our lives, both in our enthusiasms and struggles, that in fact our daily living is the central arena where the encounter with the divine takes place, such notions were available only to a chosen few, usually those who chose religious life or ministry as a vocation. We were, in effect, cut off from our most fundamental spiritual nourishment and from the mystical experience that is at the roots of all religions. (I would say we were 'purposefully' cut off from our own mystical experiences.)

In Christianity, for example, surely the New Testament’s accounts of Jesus’ birth are telling us, among other things, that the great Mystery does not visit only the elite, that the divine is found in the most unexpected and unlikely places.

The reversal of this upside-down religious view is summed up well in the commonly heard phrase: “I’m spiritual but not religious.”


My friends tend to think I am taking this concept of 'follow your inner muse' too seriously. I don't, because I've found that once you open to the inner muse there is nothing about it that can be taken too seriously. To some of them, my up and leaving Helena for Northern New Mexico is some sort of mid life crisis, but there are others who truly understand what I am about and why this move is not really a choice, but an assent to a choice which in some sense was already made for me.

It's easy to tell when this happens, because every thing needed for such a move just falls into place. I now have a home here, and it more or less fell into my lap. While I had planned on using three or four days to find some place to live, it took a grand total of two and one half hours and that time included switching all utilities into my name. I am typing this from my new home. It has everything I really needed, but not necessarily what I might have wanted. It meets my monthly expenditure limit, has recently been completely updated, has two bedrooms and a back yard large enough for a garden, but not so big I begin to resent the upkeep. Although it's in the middle of a city north of Santa Fe, it's relatively isolated and quiet. It's the perfect pueblo for this me on a new journey.

Part of my inner prompting has been discovering the similarities in religious spiritual traditions and learning from the best of the rest. The Northern New Mexico area has more to offer on this quest than does Helena. Since this also includes quantum physics and neuro biology, I imagine I will be spending my fair share of time in Los Alamos, which is about as far as one can get from the spirituality displayed in Chimayo or traditional Pueblo Indian ceremonies. Except in some weird way, it all fits.

I am hardly the only person engaged in this kind of search. I have met many spiritually gifted people from other religious traditions who are actively engaged in the same process. The idea is not to denigrate our own particular backgrounds, since our early religious formation is a fundamental part of how our brains were neurologically entrained, that would be pure folly. The idea is to enrich our own traditions understanding about the universal concepts of the spiritual process and it's effect on the totality of one's self.

Spiritual experiences do effect the total human person. They are not a matter of of changing some archetypal soul, they effect biological reality and neural development in profound ways. It's not just personalities that change, it's the neuro chemistry of the brain which houses the personality that also changes. This is why groups who use coercive formation techniques are successful, just as at the same time, they are irresponsible and ultimately immoral. They take what is supposed to be an open ended process and subvert it to their own agenda.

Following Jesus is not about becoming a carbon copy of His every move, it's about discovering His insights with in yourself, in your own way, and arriving at the same conclusions, using His life as a model of the process itself, not as some sort of ultimate end product. When religions take a process and turn it into a product, they have lost the concept of evangelization.

I think it's fitting that the patron saint of this area of New Mexico is St. Francis. You can see the influence of his life and the Franciscans every where. St. Francis was profoundly changed by his mystical experiences. He truly marched to his own drummer, but his path was towards a more complete understanding of who he was as well as God. His path did not run parallel to Jesus's, it moved toward intersection with Jesus. In this process St. Francis made a lot of enemies because his enemies prefer we all walk the same path. Unfortunately we are all uniquely individual, and walking an identical path as dictated by authority is not only impossible, it is not desirable. We all have a unique contribution to make to the whole from our own unique perspective. If God truly desired spiritual clones, we would be genetic clones. Kind of like high mountain Quaking Aspens, which are clone colonies. The fact humans are unique individuals says a great deal about what God might expect from humanity. It's not lock step conformity.


  1. Beautiful Colleen! Amazing that you found a place in 2 and a half hours! It was meant to be.

    Best wishes to you in your new home!

  2. What a wonderful inspiration you are.

  3. I love the title of Roxanne Swentzell's work "Star Gazer" and the expression on his/her face of wonder and awe.

    Although the sky was dotted with clouds last night there were some openings enough to see the International Space Station pass by a little after 9 p.m. I have never seen it pass by before so didn't know what to expect & I wasn't sure where to look for it in the sky but it was reported that we could see it over our area at 9 p.m.

    At first I saw what I thought was a star to the northwest, then thought a plane, but it wasn't until it had passed by overhead and headed east that I realized it was not a plane and it was the space station. It looked more like a moving planet than a space station.

    My husband was about 40 miles away and saw it too. It really was a sight to see and it really hit me in a way it had not before that we have a real space ship up there flying around a few hundred miles above the earth. Seeing it fly over the house, while at the same time knowing it was observed flying over my mother-in-law's house 40 miles away gave me the experience of a perspective of distance that I had not before in relationship to a moving object in space.

    This past week had its events in the skies such as the Solar eclipse for those in China and the hole in Saturn's ring, as well the return of the aurora borealis.

    The sky and all the objects that float and fly in it, whether man-made or not has always fascinated me, so this figure of the Star Gazer is captivating and inspirational. Kudos to the artist Colleen and to you for posting this art. It appears primitive, yet is timeless in what it depicts in universal human expression of wonder and awe.