Ever felt of two minds when it comes to your religious adherence? Perhaps you recognize the limitations of your faith tradition on one hand yet can’t imagine your life without it on the other? Or maybe you are on that roller coaster of certainty one day and complete doubt the next (and the feelings of guilt for “lack of faith” or indecision that goes with it)? If this describes you then you are not alone and outpost spirituality might be a fit.
I’ve adopted “faith in the outposts” as a type of metaphor for my own spiritual location at this point in life. Here, let me explain what I mean….
As a kid I loved to read stories about people who lived in the outposts. Some were soldiers or scientists, others exiles or missionaries or explorers. In order to survive these outpost dwellers had to negotiate the remote landscapes they found themselves in. They had to learn what was over the next horizon and where to take cover during a storm. They had to learn the norms of local culture and how to navigate in foreign languages. They had to learn what crops survive in unfamiliar soil and how water distributes itself across the land. In short, they had to step well out of their comfort zones and take risks that were both exhilarating and terrifying.
Yet equally fascinating to my childhood imagination were the homes that these outliers built for themselves in the seeming “middle of nowhere”. Whether their abode was a canvas tent or a log cabin or a bamboo hut these interior worlds provided much more than shelter. They were “homes away from home” – havens containing elements of a cultural heartland faraway: a bedside table with a well-worn book of familiar prayers, a china mug from the family collection, a knotted rug made by a pioneering ancestor kept beneath a foot stool, a fiddle above the door and all the associated dance floor tunes, a book of dog-eared poetry at the hearth, a cherished painting by a favourite artist above the kitchen sink.
To my young heart, the familiar furnishings of these interior spaces made the world safe again. They provided an all-important grounding point for engaging the unknown beyond. A place to leave from and come back to.
Without these “landing pads” the world beyond would overwhelm or dissolve into some form of chaos.
Living deep inside the known and the unknown is where I find myself with regard to my own (Christian) tradition. This doesn’t mean I’ve given up on my tradition or hold it in disregard. Quite the opposite. It does mean that I’ve journeyed with it out onto horizons of the human spirit that lie beyond the comfort zone of my own religious boundary lines.
As the world shrinks and the collective human imagination grows I feel compelled to take risks engaging emerging contours that are equal parts terrifying and exhilarating :
- A growing practise of mediation and mindfulness cutting across religious and even secular lines with implications for collective consciousness and human intuition.
- A trend toward slowing life down and living with smaller footprints as a counter movement to the frenzied materialism and resource-guzzling lifestyles many of us take for granted.
- A profound softening on the part of the scientific community toward the importance of imagination and story and art in developing new paradigms.
- An increasing interest in and recovery of indigenous wisdom and earth-based spirituality.
- Implications for justice and compassion with the proliferation of social media, especially in a world where greed (mine included) can so easily seem like the trump card
- The network of personal friendships and business connections in real time due to technological advances no longer bounded by geographical limitations
- A growing awareness around the globe of the vulnerability of the one home that all humans regardless of race or creed share in common: planet earth.
These emerging spiritual horizons don’t seem to be religion specific. They appeal to the human spirit as a whole.
I cherish my Christian tradition (I’m Protestant by birth, Catholic by choice). It’s my starting point. It’s what I know. It’s how I pray.
I’ve seen a lot of spiritual seekers suddenly abandon the faith moorings that have nurtured them for a lifetime. I understand their departure. Many are frustrated with the limitations and exclusions they were raised on. Yet with no home-away-from-home many give up and loose their way altogether. For many it’s only a matter of time before they get lost on a frontier that in the end overwhelms them.
So I’m going to take my lead from the outpost-dwellers of my childhood books. I’m not going to head out into the frontier without a cabin to come home to. Inside this simple abode are going to be elements of all the things in the tradition that I value and love: hymns about the love of Jesus, ancient prayers of the church, the stories of the Bible and of the heroics of the saints, weekly eucharist, the practice of confession, and the adopted family with whom I share this tradition.
For now this interior world is a critical place for me to leave from and to come home to. I would lose my way without it.
Yet at the same time I’m not going to hunker down here. I’m going to venture out and explore the unfamiliar landscape I find myself in. I’m not going to assume that my starting point is the only starting point or the best starting point. I will allow for other practises that nurture the human spirit no matter how different it may be from my own.
And who knows? In the end the points of connection and overlap may be far more significant than I had previously imagined.
Are you an outpost-dweller? If so I’d love to hear from you. What are your discoveries? Cautions? Fears and hopes?