Where do you personally find spiritual nourishment, meaning and community? How does that nourishment feed your action in the world? How will we connect with that nourishment twenty or fifty years into the future? And what is the relevance of tents, caves and shelters for the homeless? Justine Huxley reflects on drinking from the source in a changing world.
In today’s world, our relationship with the sacred seems increasingly fragile. Faith no longer functions as the foundation of human life. It is merely superstition, a quaint personal accessory, or worse, it is hardened into the extremism that causes war, mass migration and suffering. Meanwhile, the beauty of natural world is sacrificed for material gain and many religious leaders have little to say about it. In that complex and often dark territory, where do people go to drink from the source? And is the location of those places changing?
It seems to me that in these challenging times, more than ever, we need to stay connected to our spirituality. Whatever our age, culture or religious heritage, we need to stay rooted in what is most meaningful in human existence – not for ourselves as much as for the world itself. We need a sense of community that transcends individual concerns. And we need the unshakeable resilience that comes from feeling connected to something beyond ourselves. We used to call that faith in God – but for an increasing number of people, that word simply creates a barrier.
Rather than turning away from faith and spirituality, many of us, particularly those in the younger generations, are simply finding it in new places. Multiculturalism and technology have given birth to an increasingly articulate community of global citizens. For some, whose fathers might be from the East, and mothers from the West, who were born in one country and educated in another, their sense of self can never be located in a single nation or culture. (One of my dearest friends recently had a DNA ancestry test. The list of tribes represented in her bloodstream was as long as my arm and even included 4% pacific islander!). Even those like me, whose ancestry is not so deliciously varied, are hooked up via the virtual pathways of an interconnected world to a consciousness that is emphatically global. We may have national passports or be firmly committed to a particular religion, but our identity lies far beyond that.
Having a global world view radically changes our relationship with social action. If we see ourselves primarily as human (and only secondarily as Christian, Muslim, Dutch or Japanese) we become Citizens of Earth. We cannot then ignore what is happening around us – because it is all happening to our personal home. Working together to address those systemic problems then becomes completely natural.
So what are the implications of this global world view for the religion and spirituality of the future? Where are the meeting spaces that invite people to tap into and share life’s deepest sources of meaning – but without insisting they label themselves in the same way? What places of worship exist which recognise, honour and welcome those whose identities are flexible, global and ready for action?
At St Ethelburga’s we recognise that new kinds of spaces are emerging, quietly, all around us. Some arise from specific traditions, others are in an inbetween space. Some are youth-led, oriented to activism, self-organising or emergent. Others are contemplative, geared towards service, or are fresh expressions of ancient lineages.
Recently, we’ve been inspired by the new monastic narrative of young Catholic leader Adam Bucko in New York, who spoke at the Centre in June about interspirituality and his work with the homeless. We’ve had long conversations with spoken word artist and contemporary Muslim, Abbas Zahedi and his friends of BarBedoun and Rumi’s Cave, and participated in an open mic night they hosted in the Tent a few weeks ago that was rich and surprisingly prayerful. We’ve encountered Wake up London – the young activists emerging from Buddhist peace-maker Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings – and seen the hive of joyful music and storytelling they created here, leaving many little random acts of kindness behind them. And we’ve hung out with Revd Gareth Powell learning about the hugely inspiring project he leads at the Community of St Margaret the Queen. There is deep spirituality, dedication and peace-making here. These communities are mostly small, grassroots and organic – but they seem to hold some of the seeds of the future within them. New wineskins for the ancient nourishment of the soul.
It is my personal heart-felt wish to fully support those spaces and communities, the young vision-holders behind them, and the future that they represent. To me, they are the taste of life regenerating itself – the tiny vulnerable shoots and flowers growing up between the rubble of our current civilisation that can lead us to a more beautiful world.
We’ll be blogging about these spaces more often over the coming year. If you lead or are involved in one of these spaces, or would like to be, we’d love to hear from you.