I finally have a name for what’s been going on inside me for close to 15 years. I’ve been having a “spiritual emergency.”
I’ve been struggling to be who I really am in a postmodern culture that says material reality is the only reality.
We have the trappings of spiritual life, but very little of its substance. Politicians talk about God and appeal to his name and authority. Preachers build empires that cater to the social needs of middle-class families.
Families participate in religious groups — churches, synagogues, whatever — to provide structure and values for children. Singles show up to find dates and mates. And various other people who feel the need for something spiritual missing in their lives show up in hopes of touching some unseen wisp of something they can’t name.
But if you take it too seriously, we’ll send you to see a shrink. If you have spiritual experiences of the sort that have been common to people of every human culture, we’ll say you have a mental illness. If you talk of the spirit living after this body has died, we will call you superstitious.
If you take anything spiritual very seriously, we’ll call you crazy. We’ll look down on your primitive superstition and tell you to trust science.
I’ve been in rebellion against all this. I wanted more than the feel-good experiences of a religious life. I needed to take Truth seriously. That’s brought me into conflict with my culture. It’s been a spiritual emergency — because spiritual emergence was going on.
When I was a boy, I took religion very seriously. I studied Bible stories carefully and I believed everything I was taught. I believed that what my Southern Baptist churches taught me was truth — and that I was lucky to have grown up with people who had everything figured out.
But I grew up in a culture of materialism. I loved (and still love) science and engineering and economics and all of the pragmatic things which created the amazing world all around me.
I loved both of these worlds and ignored the intellectual contradictions between the ways the two were presented.
Then I became an adult and started facing some of the contradictions. I had to figure out compromises and justifications for my real-world actions in order to keep claiming to believe what I’d grown up believing.
My religion had taught me that love and honesty and giving to others mattered. When I read about all the things Jesus taught — in the Sermon on the Mount, for instance — I found that his way of living didn’t line up with what I needed to do and be in the world to get ahead.
There were times when I wasn’t honest, but I somehow justified myself. I did things that I now see as cheating other people, but those things were simply “the way of the world.” I sought after money and power and glory for myself — and I was disdainful of those who weren’t smart enough or strong enough or powerful enough to do the same.
I came up with excuses for myself. I comforted myself with the realization that others in churches around me did the same things, consciously or unconsciously. I turned a blind eye to the contradictions as I pursued all the things which Jesus taught were not important.
Modern culture is happy enough with this compromise. The world is perfectly content to let people go through the motions of spiritual practice. Nobody minds if people do charitable deeds or follow strict moral codes so they can feel better about themselves.
The culture doesn’t care about any of that — as long as you don’t experience real changes in yourself as a result of touching a Living Spirit who’s the source of all life.
I cherish the social and community experiences I’ve had in church families in the past. Those have been meaningful to me. But at some point, I started seeking something beyond what I’d seen among “normal” people.
I didn’t know what was going on. I questioned more and more of what was around me — and more and more of what I’d been taught. I pushed back against a culture which was about money and power and material things, but I also pushed back against a church culture that had become more and more like the wider materialist world.
Out on the fringes were “spiritual” people who often seemed like nutcases to me. I didn’t want to be anything like them. They were gullible and willing to believe any sort of nonsense that someone tossed their way.
I felt alone, because I wanted Truth. I didn’t just want lukewarm religion. I didn’t want the cold materialist culture that rejected what I had experienced in tiny ways.
And the more I struggled, the more alone I felt. The more alien I felt. The more I hungered for people who were at least seeking the same Truth — who were taking the need for real spiritual experience seriously.
I haven’t found what I’m looking for, but I finally feel as though I understand what I’m seeking. In a world where God is dead — and each human soul is said to die when the brain dies — I want the experience of Truth that goes beyond what either my culture or my church have prepared me for.
I have been spiritually emerging for the last 15 years or so.
I’ve been seeking. Evolving. Changing. And that frustration with the values of the culture and the values of a secularized church has turned the experience into a spiritual emergency.
I still love the science and engineering of the secular culture. I recognize how much they’ve contributed toward bringing the human race out of poverty and darkness. But I reject the notion that there’s nothing beyond the material world.
If you say there’s nothing but the material world, you are exercising pure faith in a belief which you have been taught. When I tell you there is something beyond that — the spirit of a Creator who I can’t yet fully comprehend — there’s absolutely no faith involved.
I believe it because I’ve touched that spirit — and I hunger to experience that spiritual existence more clearly.
I thought I had everything figured out when I learned the doctrines of my church when I was young. I thought I had everything figured out when I learned how to ignore what Jesus taught in order to live the way the world taught me how to live.
I now know that I have very little figured out. I now know there is infinite Truth to seek and learn. I know how far I have to go. But I recognize the spiritual emergence going on in me. I don’t know where it’s taking me, but this slow and long-running emergency is changing me.
I am very slowly becoming what I was always meant to be. I just wish I had more loving company on a strange and winding path that gets very lonely at times.