Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Spirituality For Active Souls
I've been working on developing a spirituality for those who find their spiritual connection through motion and movement. Because the field of spirituality is overwhelmingly tilted toward practices that involve being still and outwardly inactive, active souls can easily feel left out or, worse, marginalized. The inability to sit passively while meditating, contemplating or praying, can lead to the feeling that we are outsiders to the spiritual life. Most spirituality books focus on being rather than doing. Therefore, they are biased toward passivity and stillness.
But who’s to say that our inner life can’t be nurtured and fed by active spiritual practices? The great religious traditions of the world include spiritual disciplines that involve movement.
All of the major world’s religions not only acknowledge but affirm active souls. In Hinduism, the spiritual path of Raja yoga involves physical movement. Some of these yoga positions are so physically demanding that they are viewed by many as exercise. Certain Buddhist spiritual practices involve chanting and beating drums while walking. There are the Whirling Dervishes of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, who connect with Allah through a ritual circular dance. In Taoism, Tai Chi Chung is a practice of intense, yet controlled, movement that enables one to align one’s individual Tao with the Universal Tao.
In the Hebrew scriptures of Judaism, the motif of the journey is paramount. There is the journey of Abraham and Sarah from Mesopotamia to Canaan, the collective journey of the Hebrews during the Exodus, and the journey to and from Babylon during the Exile. These journeys were in response to a Divine call and were, at their core, deeply spiritual. Israel’s greatest King, David, is portrayed as dancing in joy before the Lord.
My own religious tradition, Christianity, was founded by two active souls. Jesus was constantly on the move teaching, preaching and healing. At one point he said, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.” Yes, Jesus withdrew to be alone, but even the act of withdrawal involves movement.
The Poster Boy for active spirituality is the apostle Paul. He was in constant motion as he spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean world. On his four missionary journeys, he covered around 10,000 miles. He never stayed anywhere for very long, except when he was imprisoned. Paul was a man on a mission. Even when he remained in a town for a while, he was in perpetual motion as he preached and taught in synagogues and in the street. When he wasn’t engaged in preaching and teaching, he was earning a living by leatherworking.
Why couldn’t Paul sit still? I believe that it was his nature to be in perpetual motion. He harnessed his active nature in the service of a religious mission. It is obvious to me that his soul was fed by fulfilling this mission with energy, enthusiasm and even exuberance. Because of Paul, Christianity spread beyond its Jewish roots into the wider world. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Since I find my deepest spiritual connection through active practices, I recommend you try some, even if you enjoy more "passive" practices like prayer, meditation and contemplation. The key is discovering what feeds your soul?