A Post-Christian Spirituality
Where I've landed in my quest for a purposeful spiritual path after leaving the tenets of Evangelical doctrines behind.
I’ve always wanted to trust in a higher power. It’s been a key component of my psyche for as long as I can remember. “Trust in God and everything will be alright!” was literally my catchphrase as a young boy. An optimistic outlook on life was my default.
Which is why leaving Christianity behind was not something I ever “wanted to do” or a decision I ever would have taken lightly. Even now, it pains me to write these words. Staying Christian, even nominally and for a variety of reasons, is just easier.
But I value honesty, both with myself and with others. And the truth is, I simply can’t “make” myself a believer. So…at this juncture, I am not.
Understanding the World
Faith for me was never about loyalty to a set of codified doctrines, or allegiance to a certain religious institution or tradition. I cared about the seeking of spiritual awareness—an intuitive understanding of a coherent explanatory method of recognizing organization in the world.
Which is why stepping away from Christianity was ultimately less about wrestling with the validity of God/Jesus/the Bible, and more a matter of “how do I explain why I’ve experienced what I’ve experienced and why I feel what I feel?” Replacing Christianity with, say, a materialistic/atheist view of reality was never on the table, because a materialist philosophy holds little explanatory power for the life I’ve lived.
Ultimately, if I were to continue believing in “something” rather than fall prey to a fatalistic nihilism, it would have to offer a sense of hopeful purpose and a meaningful path towards—for lack of a better word—enlightenment. But beyond mere theoretical conjecture, it would need to help make sense of the here & now in concrete and useful terms.
The Tao of Psychology: Synchronicity and the Self
On a weekday in early March 2022 when I was feeling particularly bleak and down-in-the-mouth, I happened to wander into my local Portland bookstore. (That’s the world-famous city-block-sized Powell’s Books in case you were wondering!) Purely by chance (or was it?? 😱), I came across a book in either the Philosophy or Psychology section entitled The Tao of Psychology: Synchronicity and the Self by Jean Shinoda Bolen. I picked it up on a whim, ordered tea at the in-store cafe, and started reading through the introduction.
Even though I have yet to finish the book (reading books is a luxury I rarely seem to afford these days), it has already proven to be one of those rare touchstones in life where suddenly everything changes.
I’ll give The Tao of Psychology a proper review at a later date, but suffice it to say, the delving into Jungian thought around the concept of synchronicity combined with a look at related ideas found in Taoism created an explosion within my soul. At last I began to see a glimmer of a way of seeing the world which aligned with my personal spiritual experiences over the decades. Events, encounters, decisions, and emotions in my past which previously I would have ascribed to divine intervention I could now view through the lens of synchronicity. And on a daily basis, I could attempt to sense whether I felt connected to “the eternal Tao” or had lost myself in the frenetic pursuit of obligations and egotistical efforts.
Spiritual But Not Religious (Clichéd But True)
Before you grow concerned that maybe I’ve simply exchanged one false belief system invented by mere mortals for another, I’m not here to say I’ve “converted” to Taoism and will just blindly accept anything I read or hear on the matter. On the contrary, I recognize I’m a total newb to the topic and don’t even yet know what I don’t yet know. (Something I do know however is that there’s a long history of dumb Westerners venturing superficially into Eastern mysticism and appropriating various elements to suit their own agendas. I’ll be careful to avoid making a similar error!)
All I’m trying to convey is that in my life right now, I’ve found a thread in the universe, and I’m excited to begin to pull it and see what it reveals. Instead of defining myself by what I don’t believe in (Evangelical American Christianity), I can start to define myself by what I do. And I fully expect that will change quite a bit as I grow older and have yet more experiences, which is fine and right and good.
There are those who would accuse me of “inventing” my own spiritual path and warm me of the dangers therein. Whatever. If I’ve learned anything at all, it’s that I must stay true to the life I’ve lived and the experiences I’ve experienced. And even if it doesn’t look like what you might prefer, #spirituality continues to mean a great deal to me. And that must mean something.
I certainly will have more to share going forward regarding how I typically define “spirituality” as a daily practice, so if you are interested in coming along on this journey with me, welcome friend. 🙏
Photo credit: Patrick Perkins on Unsplash