The great test of the validity and value of authentic spirituality is not how it fares amidst the affirmation and celebration of cultic community, nor in the isolation of physical separation from the world’s hustle and bustle. 

It is how it fares when brought right up alongside and against those places and systems and happenings and events and choices that the world-at-large finds irresistible and assumes are irreplaceable.

Accordingly, spirituality, its structures and its communitas (unstructured community), must not be reduced to merely offering sanctuary from discord and trial. It may well be that our spirituality does provide a welcome and accommodating form of sanctuary in the face of distress, yet it must ultimately be more than a form of escape from the world.

Ultimately, it needs to be an authentic source of inspiration, creativity and vitality that functions amidst the very presence of the idolatry that declares that God is either weak, dead or an unnecessary luxury—i.e. that God can, for all practical purposes, be safely ignored!

This is not to imply that spirituality must therefore be muscular or highly visible. Far from it. But for those with an ear to hear it should proffer both invitation and access to a fresh, different rhythm of being and longing that leads away from injustice, insecurity, betrayal, denial, intimidation, manipulation, domination and inner loneliness—in whatever form such are encountered, both within and beyond ourselves.

If we were to compare our spirituality to a plant growing within the garden of our hearts, then the task of spirituality, metaphorically speaking, is to be a plant that does not overtake the garden in which it is placed, making all else subservient to its roots and tendrils, nor one that simply provides a welcome source of shade from the heat of the day.

Rather, it is to provide a source of abiding, sustaining fruit: providing succour and invigoration to the one who needs-must leave the pleasant distraction and shelter of the garden (the place of inward meditation and self-consciousness) in order to engage in the slow, gradual, demanding work of renewing creation—in the sapping heat of the day, in the bustling market-places of commerce and in the draining physicality of industry.

An early circular ichthys symbol, created by combining the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ, Ephesus.

Early circular ichthys symbol, at Ephesus, created by combining the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ — a reminder of a period of history when Christian spirituality was forged in the context of violent oppression and secrecy.

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