Yesterday, while reading a book entitled "Restless Souls" on the history of American Spirituality, I was struck by how often the author makes the point that our society throughout the past couple of centuries has tended to value a non-institutional, individualistic, pluralistic, eclectic approach to the spiritual journey. During last month's Facebook posts, I shared quite a few passages from "The New Monasticism" by Adam Bucko and Rory McEntee, which effectively debunk the notion that an interspiritual approach is necessarily ego-serving, undisciplined and shallow. As many of us are well aware, following the moment-to-moment guidance of the Holy Spirit rather than a ready-made religious institution can be a challenging enterprise, for sure.
However, while reading this book I found myself longing for a unified, non-institutional structure or approach that would bring all of the disparate spiritual pieces together into an integrated whole. One could of course claim - as many Millennials do - that the individual SELF who creates this spiritual amalgam IS that unifying factor. However, for me, that approach lacks the depth I'm looking for. There must be some other way to discover and practice this kind of unity in the midst of interspiritual diversity.
In my case, I've discovered it in several ways. First, when I speak of myself as a Christian, I experience my soul as an embodiment of the warm, loving glow of Christ that melts all of the disparate elements of the world into One. Here, Christ focuses not on himself but on the world and its spiritual traditions, disappearing in the process into a humble, loving gaze that lights all things up in radiant love - bringing out the best in each - like alpenglow playing on the late-day mountains. I love the humility of this kind of Christ, unconcerned with becoming an object of attention or adoration.
However, when I'm in my wilderness mode - which I plan to be more and more often - I experience the unifying factor in my spirituality as the wild landscapes of the West. After all, everything I've learned about mystical Christianity - and about Buddhism, various Native American spiritualities and Sufism, for example - has occurred within a whole host of various local outdoor retreat places and during hiking and camping trips in the mountains and deserts of the the Great American West. In addition, I've developed a Wilderness version of both Contemplative Prayer and Insight Meditation, together with a Wilderness Mysticism theology that focuses on the thought of nature writers such as John Muir, Edward Abbey, Henry David Thoreau and Terry Tempest Williams.
When people ask "what faith are you," I invariably answer that I am a tree. My branches are rooted in both evangelical Christianity and Quaker Spirituality. Moreover, my trunk is identified with Christian Mysticism - Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. On the other hand, my branches are composed of chief insights from Buddhism, Native American Spirituality, Sufism, Taoism, Hinduism, Jewish Mysticism, Jungian Psychology and Enneagram Spirituality. Most importantly, however, is the fact that the "tree" which I am is growing - and thriving - in a LANDSCAPE which relativizes yet unifies all of these various spiritual traditions. And this landscape - for me - is "Wilderness Mysticism" !
Photo: Sunset on Bellvue Dome and the Cache la Poudre River, Bellvue, CO, February 25, 2016
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.