Opinion Columns & Blogs

DR. CUMMINGS: The search for sensible spirituality

Tomorrow we start the month of December. It’s our “spiritual month,” isn’t it? But what does this really mean?

Radical Islamists believe there’s a certain spirituality in killing non-Muslims. They think it makes them holy. And when they die performing these acts, they believe they’re going straight to a sexual heaven. So we have members of the Islamic State cutting off heads and murdering women and children and racing into gunfire with no fear. They have promised to bring this spirituality to America and pour out their hatred on us like molten lava. You and I think their version of spirituality is senseless.

My grandmother had a Tipperary-Irish brogue, and included in all of her Irish Catholic beliefs was the conviction that her backyard was filled with “the little people.” When she leaned over her back porch to dump out a bowl of dirty dish water, she would always yell out: “Beware the water!” so they could scatter out of the way. She believed this as firmly as she believed in the holy mother of God. It was just part and parcel of her spirituality. You and I smile at her naiveté and think her version of spirituality was not very sensible.

When I lived in Italy I met a monk who had the “stigmata.” That meant his hands and feet had marks that looked like nail holes. Everyone believed (and he did, too) that God had put those marks there to remind us all of the crucifixion. Padre Pio (that was his name) is now a saint in the Catholic Church, and all the accusations that he had used acid to cause the wounds have been discredited. But who knows? Many think his spirituality was from God. Many others wonder why God would do such a senseless thing. What do you think?

There is a difference between religion and spirituality. The word “religion” refers to certain organized systems of belief, while spirituality is a feature of the individual -- not the group. Religion is about following the teachings of others who may be considered religious leaders. Spirituality is about finding one’s own path, which may in fact require the assistance of religious practices or religious leaders, but which also can be achieved alone or through unconventional means.

In either case, our spirituality should be reasonable and sensible if we are going to be reasonable and sensible people. Our spirituality -- unlike the Islamic State or my grandmother or maybe Padre Pio -- should make sense. That means we should be able and willing to discuss it with others and listen to their objections and answer their questions. We should be open and transparent and eager to hear about the spirituality of others.

But are we? I don’t think so. I find this kind of discussion extremely rare. We discuss politics and religion all the time. However, to discuss our innermost feelings about ourselves and our world, together with our doubts and concerns, takes a lot of courage. Spirituality is a journey, not a destination. It’s a search for truth, not the truth itself. But our conclusions, even though they may be temporary, should make sense, and it is this “sensibleness” that becomes the criterion by which we gauge our spirituality.

Spiritual people are fun to be around. Religious people are often boring. Spiritual people are confident but not positive. Religious people are often positively right but negative to all other ideas. Spiritual people are full of joy and laughter. Religious people are often too busy to talk. They’ve got so many rituals to perform. Spiritual people make sense. Religious people follow rules that are sometimes senseless.

One of the finest religious persons I’ve ever met was Pope John XXIII. But he was deeply spiritual -- and lots of fun.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is www.billcummings.org.