Project Conversion is still getting into my head. I came across a phrase there one night, a phrase that stuck with me: the spiritual rogue. It got stuck in my head, and the next morning I came back to the site and looked for it and couldn’t find it and thought I’d dreamed it. But it was there, all right, buried in an offhand comment. A week later it’s still with me.
Before going further I suppose I need to clarify what the s-word means to me. Spirit, spiritual, spirituality. I know people have many different ideas and emotions about this. The very word may become an obstacle because it conjures so many negative associations. Yet at the core, I think of spirituality as encompassing three main things which few would deny: meaning, values, purpose. (Props to Arthur Zajonc.) Forget about all the other baggage (religion, dogma, mystical experiences, prayer, ritual, tradition, church, incense, afterlife, divinity) for a moment. When I think of the spiritual aspect of life, I’m thinking about meaning, values, and purpose. If there’s a better word for this, I don’t know what it is, though I’m certainly open to suggestions.
So back to this phrase, the spiritual rogue. It resonates with a double meaning. The first image in my mind is that of a socially independent “drifter” type who has a sensitivity to spiritual issues. But then there’s also the idea of a person whose spirituality is sort of rugged and individualistic.
And, surprise surprise, I kind of see myself in both of these images. I’ve been a spiritual rogue for most of my life — all my adult life, in fact. There’s nothing particularly unique about that. I suspect it’s a quintessential modern American experience. We are a nation of spiritual rogues. Or at least, there are a lot of us out here. It stands to reason that there are two other camps: those in true spiritual communities, and the spiritually dead. Off the cuff, I’d guess the dead outnumber the rest of us. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But as many as one-third of Americans say they’re “spiritual but not religious,” and that seems like a pretty substantial chunk.
“Spiritual but not religious” is so well-worn it’s become almost cliché, at least in my mind. But now that I think of it, isn’t it the same thing? Maybe so. Sometimes a fresh turn of phrase makes a difference.
I’ve considered spiritual matters of paramount importance for as long as I can remember. Yet for the better part of my life I’ve been out here on my own, not a part of any formal community or school of thought. I’ve been a rogue wanderer so long I’m not sure I can be anything else. But what does this rogue spirituality mean for my family, for my daughter who is only three years old? Can a lone wolf be a good dad? And thinking about these things makes me realize something that is kind of hard for me to admit: namely, that I have been longing for spiritual community.
I should make clear that I don’t desire a label or an -ism just for the sake of social respectability. But since the birth of my daughter I’ve found myself stretching and growing in ways that surprise me. I want what’s best for her, of course, but it’s more than that. I also have been redefining what’s best for me. The idea of being part of an explicitly religious community remains waaay outside my comfort zone. And yet community is important to me. I’m very active in my community, but it’s all so damn fragmented. We are always looking at pieces and never the whole. Ritual and tradition have great power to make meaning of life, though many of the big secular ones in our society leave me cold, or worse. It would be nice to be able to celebrate holidays that truly reflect the values we cherish. There’s a strength in numbers, too, which might provide a little buffer against those who see the world differently. That might make it a little easier to walk our path from day to day.
These are questions I’d be wrestling with, regardless, but it’s eerie how the recent Project Conversion postings have resonated with me, ripened certain thoughts, and provoked me to seek greater clarity. I’m afraid it’s all still rather incoherent. Clearly this is a work in progress. But these are things I have been thinking about, and I’d rather make mention of them in half-baked form than leave them out entirely.