Monday, August 22

Quiet quitting: Boundary protection not anti-work

 When I was growing up in the 70s into something some might call adulthood, I knew that it was my responsibility to work as hard as I could to try to "get ahead." Getting ahead meant having a "good" job with a title, preferably an expense account, and maybe even some people who reported to me. It also seemed to mean working long hours and rarely saying "no" when asked to do something that might not have been in my job description. Because, well, it kind of was in that catch-all statement "And other duties as assigned." Even if that other duty meant working later than I'd planned or having to give up some personal plans. There was always the threat of being fired, of being shamed for not being a team player, and even more so because I was a woman in a mostly male-dominated business. Although, let's be honest, in the 70s and 80s, and even now, many businesses are still male-dominated.

So when I heard and read about "quiet quitting," I gave a quiet shout and fist pump.

What my generation learned much too late is that once we said "yes" to that extra thing, with whatever enticement that was offered, we could never say "no" to that one small thing, that little extra project, that wonderful opportunity for growth. (There's a woman on TikTok who does vocabulary "pronunciation" satire videos to point out that words like "opportunity" really just mean more work.)

I think in the year 2022 PE (Pandemic Era) we're finding that people are tired on multiple fronts, and not just old people like me. We're tired of all the social media buzzing and trolling; we're tired of incivility in the grocery store and coffee shops and grown-ups screaming like toddlers when they don't get their way. We're tired of the weaponization and politicization (sometimes those terms are synonymous, which is also exhausting) of pretty much everything. We have been suffering from outrage fatigue for a number of years now, and some of us for longer than others. And many of us are so very tired of the work it takes to manage our imposter syndrome.

A lot of pundits express shock and yet celebrate that Gen Zers want their work to be meaningful. Hello! That's not new. I would imagine that most people want the work they do to be meaningful OR to be something that is constrained to specific hours so they can go do the things that are meaningful to them outside of work.

There are a lot of TikTok videos about workers responding to bosses who want employees to work a few extra hours after regular work hours or to work over the weekend. And I've done that. I've worked the 14 hours or more a day and done so 6 or 7 days a week. We can do that only for so long and then collapse from exhaustion and frustration because there is always more. Always more. And always more with less resources or fewer people.

When everyone says, "Enough!", perhaps there will be change. Perhaps employers and managers and Wall Street brokers and venture capitalists will realize that ALL of us would like to be paid a fair wage and paid for all of the hours we work.

Now I also understand the small businesses that are struggling and that are asking employees to work double shifts. Or the various service industries that are asking, expecting, and even demanding the same of their employees. I know the pandemic has eroded the bottom line of many organizations so they take drastic actions to halt the falling bottom line.

But I don't think it takes a genius to figure out that organizations have to reset a lot of expectations: their own expectations first; their stockholders, if they have them; their investors, if they have them; and their customers. For sure their customers. 

"We have reduced hours now because we are going to manage best for our employees so they are less exhausted so they can better serve you." is not the worst thing to say. 

Is it easy with rents going up? With employees pushing harder for unionization? With supply chain issues? Nope. But putting some sort of a band-aid or quick fix in place is like putting a finger in the proverbial dam. That will solve that problem for a minute or two and then several others will become evident and the problems will get worse and more severe.

The fact is that none of this is easy and none of it is simple. However, if more employees are finally willing to say "Enough!", then, again, perhaps there will be change. Of course, there will be some bosses who will try to change the work day hours, and that will get ugly. 

Here's the thing: Many of us do find fulfillment and meaning in our work, and many of us do not. Those of us who do not find meaning and fulfillment in our work do our jobs so we can afford to do the things that give us that fulfillment. And if we are allowed to do that, perhaps our attitudes doing the day-to-day work will improve because we know our managers and bosses and employers respect boundaries and prefer employees who are committed to their work during their work hours. And employees who are committed to their work while they are at work will do a better job which could mean happier and maybe even more polite customers (a girl can dream) so fewer negative reviews, etc., etc., etc.

So most definitely not anti-work. Just pro better awareness that people are not cogs in a corporate or business wheel.

Thursday, August 18

On Being Woke and What That Might Mean

I’ve read a lot about the disdain of many conservatives about the concept or actuality of being woke. Governors, council members, school board members, and plenty of others eschew the wokeness. And I cannot help but wonder what they mean by that because I think many use it as a synonym for being liberal or a leftist, or something perhaps more ominous.

Because I like words and I like to research stuff, I did some research.

Before I go any further, I’ll note that I am a moderate Republican and I am a believer in the person and work of Jesus Christ though not inclined to call myself an evangelical. If any of that offends or triggers you, well, stop reading and go find something else to do, please.

I started with an article I found on Fox News, which is not a source I would typically use. The author noted the word “woke” was first published in an essay by William Melvin Kelley in The New York Times in 1962, so I had to go find that. I found it and took one glance at the title of Kelley’s essay and knew I had to learn more about him before I could read his essay.

This is what I learned about William Melvin Kelley starting with an article in The New Yorker from which I got the image to the left. The title of the 2018 article reads "The Lost Giant of American Literature" and its subtitle is "A major black novelist made a remarkable debut. How did he disappear?" And in this article, writer Kathryn Schutz referred to the 1962 essay. I also found a lengthy obituary in The New York Times in which Kelley is described as a writer "who brought a fresh, experimental voice to black fiction in novels and stories that used recurring characters to explore race relations and racial identity in the United States." Kelley was 79 when he died in February 2017. I had never heard of him and I feel that gap in my knowledge and know I will soon have to find some of his work to remedy that situation.

Based, however, on Schulz's work, I feel a better sense of Kelley and what he might have been trying to say in the early 1960s, a time of tumultuous social and civil discord and political upheaval. Sound familiar?
The title of the 1962 essay is "If You're Woke You Dig It." A brief aside: I'm no longer surprised by the number of people who have a complete misunderstanding of American English, of the English language and its Latin roots and numerous borrowed words, and how very little of what we think is "American" or specifically of the United States (because there is more to the continents of North and South America than the United States and all of those other places are also "American" is actually of the United States. I mean, everything that is of our United States version of English came first from somewhere else, and then developed or evolved. Everything. And this essay is a delicious reminder of that fact and the cultural signifiers that are found in idioms.

In Kelley's context, being woke seemed to mean being with it or hip and, in today's context, knowing the latest emojis and that "no cap" means "no lie," or did last year. I am reluctantly resisting the digression that is Kelley to return to why a writer for Fox News referred to his work.

Writer Michael Ruiz reports that "for decades, it meant conscious and aware--but the slang word has come to represent an embrace of progressive activism, as well." He does also refer to Merriam-Webster and The Oxford Dictionary, although I had to do a bit more digger to determine if that was the OED, for those of us who can be dictionary snobs. It wasn't although I did find some interesting definitions in OED. I'll come back to those in a moment.

What does Merriam-Webster offer? Herewith in situ (Latin). It is, as you can see, a very modern definition, although Merriam-Webster also notes the word was first used in 1948 and with this very definition. I found it was used in 1942 in Negro Digest when J. Saunders Redding used it in his "article about labor unions." And then I learned that Jay Saunders Redding was an English professor, a visiting professor at Brown University (1949-50), among other things. Another gap in my knowledge that I must rectify.

At the end of his article, Michael Ruiz states "Now it's not so much a racial term as an ideological one." Well, Mr. Ruiz, it was not a racial term. It was an African American cultural term. There is a substantial difference in the understanding of many of the word "racial."

Grazia, a U.K.-based publication, seems to be mostly about fashion, celebrity, and such, yet there was an interesting article about "woke" and what it really means. The writer mentions much of the history I'd already learned referring as well to the 1972 Barry Beckham play Garvey Lives! with its focus on Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey.

This article also notes that #staywoke started trending in 2009, but it took a couple of years before the phrase became more noticeably mainstream. The writer states that "[s]taying woke was a way for people of all races to use shorthand in calling out society's racial ills, but also served as a one-word way of encouraging people to pay political attention." I think there is clear pique (from French with a very interesting etymological history) when the writer says

There’s something galling about well-meaning white people and (mosty-white) media organisations using ‘woke’ as a catch-all term to refer to fellow white people, and the word’s widespread use has consequently led to it feeling fairly meaningless. Middle class white people around the world call themselves ‘woke’ because they send out the occasional tweet calling for peace and love, not because they’re trying to make any concrete effort to change the racist status quo. Calling yourself woke simply isn’t enough—you need to act. But a word that’s been diluted to the extent this one has is not necessarily going to get you there.

 My last source is also based in the U.K., National World. Rhona Shennan states that being woke "nowadays refers to being aware or well informed in a political or cultural sense, especially regarding issues surrounding marginalised communities--it describes someone who has 'woken up' to issues of social injustice."

Shennan quotes Afua Hirsch, so I went directly to Hirsch's 2019 article in which she wrote:

Today, the person using the word is likely to be a rightwing culture warrior angry at a phenonemenon that lives mainly in their imagination. . . .In reality, the only thing that unites the woke is an intellectual curiosity about identity and how complex, how nuances, how rooted in disparate histories it can be. The real groupthink, the genuinely cohesive crowd. . .is that of the anti-woke, the most weaponised identity of all.

The explanatory subtitle of Hirsch's article reads: "How ironic that the rightwing culture warriors claim to support free speech. They seem to want minorities to shut up and stop complaining." Given the state of things today in the United States, I would say they seem to want anyone who disagrees with their ideological viewpoint--when they can agree on that--to shut up. That's it; just shut up.

That was a lot of time perusing British publications, so I went back to my search to see what else might be published on this side of the pond. So to an article published by KPBS in San Diego (I saw that eye roll). The article was written by Cristina Kim, Racial Justice and Social Equity Reporter, and is an edited transcript of an interview. You can watch/hear the interview here. The first question for her series "Let's Talk About It" was posed by Mike Milton who asked for a definition of "woke" or "wokeness." Kim talked with Dr. DamariyƩ Smith, Assistant Professor of Contemporary Black/African American Rhetoric and Media Studies at San Diego State University.

There is some reiteration of the history of the word, of course, and some other social observations regarding the evolution of the word and how it became appropriated by white people, how it reflected and reflects increasing racial awareness through Obama's administration and the Black Lives Matter movement, and how it has become weaponized.

Then to The Palm Beach Post with its fittingly titled April 2022 article, "What does it mean to be 'woke,' and why does Florida Governor Ron DeSantis want to stop it?" Writer C.A. Bridges notes early in his piece that "[s]ome conservatives fight against wokeness because they see it as performative and liberal indoctrination." Florida's HB7, often called the Stop WOKE Act, states

Provides that subjecting individuals to specified concepts under certain circumstances constitutes discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin; revising requirements for required instruction on the history of African Americans; requiring the department to prepare and offer certain standards and curriculum; authorizing the department to seek input from a specified organization for certain purposes; prohibits instructional materials reviewers from recommending instructional materials that contain any matter that contradicts certain principles; requires DOE to review school district professional development systems for compliance with certain provisions of law.
Or, as restated in The Palm Beach Post, the bill "prohibits any teaching that could make students feel they bear personal responsibility for historic wrongs for their race, color, sex or national origin."

Bridges does an excellent job of recounting a thorough history of the word "woke" including a wide range of politicians and their, mmm, "observations" of what it means to be woke. Interestingly, Bridges quoted Michael Ruiz of Fox News: "So in addition to meaning aware and progressive, many people now interpret woke to be a way to describe people who would rather silence their critics than listen to them," which seemed to be what Hirsch said of conservatives.

And so, at the end of the day, as it were, I explored what Slate's Rachelle Hampton had to say; she was cited by Bridges. Hampton points out how social media and others have made the term essentially meaningless, although I think it remains a dog whistle for many conservatives. Hampton states
. . .What you get from this constant divorcing and decontextualizing of the word woke is this idea that wokeness is a thing that you can aspire towards. Not only aspire towards, but achieve.
You get this kind of gross performance of racial consciousness that’s all posture. In this way, wokebasically becomes empty on both sides of the white people aisle: You get white Liberals who think by doing a Pepsi commercial that appropriates protest imagery that they are “woke,” and that there’s this way to acquire woke points. This side is annoying and actively harmful in a few different ways, but the other side smells a little bit like fascism. Around 2017 or 2018, this is when we start to get white people turning against the word. And not just turning against it, but turning against the idea of it. Because, again, there is no coherent political ideology behind the word woke and there never has been.
But also, the people who are using “wokeness” to capture all these disparate political things happening are mostly writers who should have the ability to tease out what exactly they’re talking about. But it is extremely convenient from a culture-war perspective, to be able to use a word like woke to signal at approximately seven different things. Then, there’s also just the disingenuousness of it all. When you say that “wokeness” is a political ideology, you’re not talking about anything. You’re talking about people who talk about race. And that just immediately brands them as a member of the wokerati.

I had only one more source to explore and that was the online urban dictionary, which is crowd-sourced, and then I didn't know anything any more and that sent me scurrying back to my beloved OED and this definition:

"To bring into being, raise, stir up (war, strife, woe, etc.); to arouse, excite (an activity, feeling, emotion): to evoke (a sound, echo, etc.). A 1793 instance of the word refers to the awakening of "dormant passion." An 1862 reference is to a controversy awakened by a publication. A 1655 entry refers to the awakening of someone's curiosity. Other entries refer to the awakening of rivalry, dissent, ambition, and despair. In other words, being woke meant that emotions, feelings, passions, and interests were awakened. That seems a bit obvious. 

If that awakening means being more aware of and informed about the world in which I live and to which I hope to contribute, I'm all in. But my hope is that conscious awakening brings with it conscientiousness and civility to also learn about why I'm experiencing those emotions, feelings, passions, and interests and to be aware of the existence and reason for the emotionas, feelings, passions, and interests of others. Even if we don't agree. I think we used to call that civility.

Monday, August 15

Literature and Spirituality: Some of the First Texts

 As I've mentioned before, one of my predecessors who taught this course had mostly older texts and I see value in some of those. So we will begin with a couple of the Vedic texts, about which I knew nothing a couple of months ago.

The Vedas, as they are known, are ancient Hindu texts (c. 1500 BCE - c. 500 BCE). In class, we'll spend a bit of time becoming familiar with the history of these texts before reading two samples, one from the Rig Veda and an excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita, which is Sanskrit for "Song of God." It is an epic poem that made me think of Milton's Paradise Lost, only because of its scope and scale.

You may ask why Hindu texts at a Christian college. Good question. Well, I've learned that Hindu is the oldest known living religion and the timeline has become important to me.

Why is Hinudism (c. 2300-1500 BCE) the oldest known living religion? Why was it one of the first? I'm not an expert so my answer is sheer speculation but I suspect it has to do with location. We think about all that we've learned from archaelogists about civilizations and cultures and those early civilizations for which archaelogists and historians have found and recorded information is situated in what was known as the Indus Valley and the Far East. Six of the oldest known religions originated in India, modern Pakistan, modern Nepal, China, and Japan.

If we're able to step back to do any sort of comparative analysis on different religions, we can see that gods were created to explain the mysteries of the universe. Why rain? Why drought? How does humanity appease the gods so the crops grow? so game is plentiful? so children are healthy? so a tribe or community or people can defend itself from its enemies?

And most religions seem to have something that is the basis for the faith, the means by which believers and adherents can understand and try to perfect, if you will, a relationship with that god or those gods.

One of the key criteria for being a Hindu today is accepting the Vedic and Upanishad texts as the basis of the faith — similar to how Christianity is inseparable from the bible.

What is clear is that most organized religions have some sort of text(s). How those texts are used might depend on the religious leaders and the adherents of the religion themselves.

So we will begin with some context of the Vedic texts and then read two Hindu texts that I think students will find interesting, and I mean that in the "Huh. How about that?" way of interesting. The first texts we'll read are Hymn CXXI (121) from the Rig Veda and Chapter 1 from The Bhagavad Gita. Again, some of what I've read of The Bhagavad Gita reminds me of John Milton's Paradise Lost. I could not find any clear evidence that Milton was influenced by the text or that he had ever read it. but the sweep of both epic texts is profound and thought-provoking.

From Hinduism we'll proceed to Greek myths. It took me some time to wrap my head around this timeline. What we seem to know is that the ancient Greek civilization emerged around 1200 BCE, and what we might think of as the Classical Age probably began around 500 BCE.

There were significant events that informed what we know as a timeline for Greek mythology Herodutus's version of the events of the Trojan War (c. 1250 BCE) and  Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (c. 750 BCE). It is in this time frame of the 8th century BCE that we see the emergence of Zeus and his fellow gods, though new evidence emerged in 2009 that suggests reference to and worship of what we know as the Greek gods as early as the 14th and 13th centuries BCE. If that's true, the overlap between Hinduism and Greek mythology is a bit closer.

This is when it's important to understand both history and geography, the existence and reach of ancient empires, the travels and conquests of Alexander the Great who contributed to if not caused the fall of the Persian Empire.

When we see the lands Alexander the Great traveled (see the map below), the civilizations he touched and the civilizations that influenced him, we might begin to have a sense of the import of those ancient cross-cultural and cross-religious influences.
Alexander the Great is known for spreading his own culture, of course, but he is also known for adopting some local cultural practices. Because he understood the need for stability in any region and because he did not have the military force to try to sustain and maintain order, he took other approaches that allowed for economic and developmental growth in the hybrid civilizations he left behind.

With the Greeks in mind, we will spend some time with Pandora and Noah. I know that seems like an odd mix, but I found some fascinating information in my research. 

I love the myth of Pandora. It is one with which many of us are familiar as an explanation of how evil entered the world but that the last remaining shining thing in the bottom of the box was Hope. At least that's how many of us learned the myth. There is more to the story than that, of course, and it is filled with intrigue. I'll give you a somewhat abbreviated version.

Pandora, which means "all endowed," was the first mortal woman. Zeus was angry at Prometheus for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humans, and Zeus wanted Pandora to have "numerous and beguiling gifts" that would plague humanity. Pandora was then molded by Hephaestus, the Greek god of blacksmiths (and other craftsmen) and fire although Athena, Aphrodite, and others got involved. Think fairy godmothers bestowing gifts on she who became Sleeping Beauty.  because Zeus wanted to punish Prometheus for stealing fire from the gods to give to human. One of the gifts the gods and goddesses gave to Pandora was a jar--not a box--filled with all of the evils and diseases of the world. And then Pandora was given in marriage to Epimetheus, brother of, yep, you guessed it, Prometheus.

This is where it gets really interesting and the Noah connection occurs. It seems that Pandora and Epimetheus had a daughter they named Pyrrha who was given to Prometheus' son, Deucalion, who was mortal. It seems that Deucalion and Pyrrha were the only two mortals who survived the Great Flood sent by Zeus. And then, "Pyrrha and Deucalion repopulated the earth by fashioning men and women out of stones." 
The Gigantomachy (Battle of the Giants), Francisco Bayeu, 1764

We will then read about these myths and these people including an article about Noah and Deucalion as well as a summary version of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

As we get closer, I'll craft some questions for us to be thinking about although I already have some floating around in my head. I hope my students will have some thoughtful questions of their own.

In Paradise Lost, Milton notes his goal is to "justify the ways of God to men" (PL I.25-26). It's a big reach to try to reconcile some of the paradoxes with which humanity has wrestled since the beginning of Christianity, perhaps the beginning of most religions. How do we begin to try to understand human suffering and God's goodness? Maybe that's why Hope was part of Pandora's jar and not just all of the evils and illnesses of the world. How do Christians begin to understand the paradox of free will and divine foreknowledge? This is something over and through which denominations have battled and argued for centuries.

I think these questions are part of the fundamentals of spirituality. We want answers to the big "why" and "how" questions. Too often we want to package God rather than acknowledge, from a Christian perspective, that God's ways are not our ways. That God's ways are higher than ours, and maybe only higher because we struggle to comprehend an infinite being, or even to articulate a view of what it might mean that God is infinite. Check out Isaiah 55 and 1 John 3.

Monday, August 8

Literature and Spirituality: Still Thinking

Yoram Raanan
I've had to take a bit of a break on this course for some other work and some family stuff. My nephew Nathan has graduated from high school and this past weekend there was a party for him in Austin and I was able to go. It was nice to see and catch up with my sister and her family, and other friends, all of whom I've not seen since our mother's memorial in October 2019.

So this week is about what others have shared in their thinking about spirituality. I give you no information about each person other than to say that, so far, the only responses I've gotten are from women. Interesting.

I'd given each a bit of background about the course and why I was asking the question, so they all knew the context of the course "Literature and Spirituality" being taught at a Christian college. I'll share their thoughts without commentary and as they were given to me. 
I believe “spirituality” or “spiritual” means someone is open to ideas beyond the physical. They are willing to consider concepts outside of what they can see or prove. More than feelings, spirituality is the ability to embrace what we can not reason. Knowing there is more to life than what can be explained but lacking the “proof." Spirituality is no longer about organized religion but feeling there is more outside of us!
If I'm thinking about it simply as the word and not connected to the course I'd have to say spirituality is a concern with what relates to the non-physical aspects of our life.
The first word that popped in my head was New Age. But in light of the fact that this is a course at a Christian college my thoughts are different. Perhaps a course that discusses how faith informs the reading of literature as well as the authorship of it.
“Spirituality” is a word that raises red flags for me or perhaps I tune in carefully when I see or hear someone using that word now. In the past when I was not reading the Bible regularly I naively assumed someone using that word was referring to belief in the trinity and responding to the presence of the Holy Spirit. These assumptions caused me to overlook other signs, and there were many instances where I was deceived or I deceived myself about intentions and beliefs. Now when I hear “spirituality” I listen more closely for the words/actions that follow and I test all against the Word of God…I now question WITH BOLDNESS and prayer and listen to the Spirit in me to guide me on understanding how that word is being presented. Is it being used in the truth of the Word of God or in the truth of the person uttering it? Often a pause and sit still is required to decipher it and other times it is clear at the utterance. Indeed (as I learned the hard way) there are many spirits one could listen to and follow and all could be the basis of “spirituality” but for me there is only One True Spirit I choose to follow so I’m looking for evidence of the Holy Spirit when I see that word now. If it is used in a context void of the HS I will probably not pursue listening or reading further.
When I hear or see the word “spirituality” I think of that part of every human that longs for connection to a higher power than what we can access through our physical, mental and emotional capacity. As a believer I know the presence of the Holy Spirit fulfills that longing.
I think of basic "spirituality" (with a small 's') as cognizance that "there must be something more" than biological life [brief existence] and death [non-existence]. This "something more" is a domain of existence beyond the physical, material dimensions. It is not constrained by time or space. It possesses/conveys a moral quality [sense of right or wrong] and influences society in ways that are distinct from culture or custom, although it impacts both.
Spirituality: the world’s view, which is anything but Christ, and my view, which is everything in Christ and is Christ. To truly seek first the Kingdom of God. When He permeates everything in and through us.
My first thought on spirituality the essence of the soul which is in one of two camps death or life to me. If its’s not the Holy Spirit, no thanks. Seeing it is a small “s” makes it more like mysticism. At an evangelical college Literature and Spirituality I would want to learn from autobiographies how the Holy Spirit lead ordinary people to reach beyond themselves for the Kingdom.
God inspired and created communication beyond the physical realm. Our individual Spirituality can be utilized to build and bless through God The Father, Jesus Christ The Son or The Holy Spirit OR directed towards evil for the result of death and destruction. We are free to choose how to use our own Spirituality.
Spirituality: the practice of connecting with an unseen, outside influence which will bring about a positive change in one’s life, mainly peaceful and powerful.
Spirituality: any conversation, thought, song or event that includes God.
Whenever I see or hear spirituality I immediately think of the Word of God. Is it used in the context of rightly divining God’s truth. I’m looking for a practical application and/or approach to a spiritual truth. It seems to me that whenever the concept of spirituality is mentioned in the Bible, it almost always refers to something we should be “being” or doing.
The Bible says man is body (material) and soul/spirit (immaterial part). For those that are born again believers, the spirit of a man IS the Holy Spirit - the true identity of a person, his true spirituality. This is not referring to a religion but to a relationship, although coming to understand and appropriate this truth might have come to a person by means of religious truths taught in an Biblically-based organized religion/denomination. For those that are not believers in Jesus Christ a search is on to define/understand/explain the immaterial part of man- my sense of being, my moral compass, my identity. This is when I most often hear or read the word “spirituality” or “spiritual person”. They are looking for their true identity themselves- apart from the God of the Bible, apart from truths taught in an Biblically-based organized religion/denomination.

Again, every response is from a woman and, as you've no doubt noticed, from a Christian perspective and from a few different denominations although each of these women likely identifies as born again. 

What I see consistently through these definitions, if you will, is an expression that one's spirituality emanates from what one believes. That aligns with the research. The last "definition" notes that those who are "spiritual but not religious" (SBNR) are trying to find a source or foundation for their identity.

I've not been able to glean any insights from those of different faiths, but I do wonder if those of other religions have a similar sensibility of what it means to be spiritual. So that sent me on a brief quest. I don't know that Dina Mohammad Basiony speaks for all of Islam, but I did find this interesting. What is also interesting about Islam is that there are specific rituals or spiritual practices that reinforce key pillars of the religion, that are key expressions of a believer's faith. What also intrigues me is that Muslims have also pondered this notion of being spiritual but not religious and that there are academic treatises on spirituality within Islam.

And so a brief foray.

A Muslim woman born in Pakistan and living in New Jersey, Saima Mehboob, wrote about her own spiritual journey. Mehboob writes that at one time she did not have a personal connection to the acts of worship--those rituals of prayer and more that every religion has--

But the concept of spirituality did keep me grounded in my faith. Like others that haven’t found their guiding light but knew it existed, I did believe that we were created for a purpose, the sense that there is something bigger than ourselves. Spirituality focuses on this belief and uses practices like mindfulness and meditation to connect the person’s mind and spirit to central themes of harmony with creation and attaining inner peace.

An academic article on place spirituality, defined as "an attachment to a geographic place or an 'object,'  refers to the three ways a Muslim might "attach to God everywhere and at all times, without consideration of any place, time, or object." I don't want to wander too far off-topic, but I will say I found that article fascinating and the correlations to how we might view spirituality quite profound.

Just as Muslims have specific place spirituality, so do Christians. I know plenty of people who have made their own pilgrimage to Israel. There are millions of Christians who have gone to Israel to walk the believed paths of Jesus, to be in Israel at Easter for the re-enactment of stations of the cross. The cross itself is a spiritual and iconic object for Christians. 

"Spirituality in Islam" is the title of a chapter in a 2020 text titled Essentials of Islamic Studies (2020). The abstract for that chapter states that "[s]pirituality (Ruhhaniyyat) in Islam is defined as the presence of a relationship with Allah that affects the individual’s self worth, sense of meaning, and connectedness with others."

One other site identifies specific practices of Islam. What was interesting to me is that while I know there are some sect differences within Islam that often lead to terrible violence, there seem to be more unifying practices of Islam than divisive ones, which I find intriguing. The practices also remind me of the books I've read about spiritual disciplines in Christianity. What are the spiritual disciplines? Great 
question and I'll note there may be 4, 5, 8, or more. However, there is consistency in the lists. 

The spiritual disciplines themselves are practices that can lead to spiritual growth and deepen a believer's relationship with God. They are those practices in which Christians should engage routinely and regularly to be more connected with God.

What we see is the importance of prayer, meditation, fasting, study, service, confession, worship, guidance, celebration, and fellowship. Nothing surprising other than the fact that Christian disciplines tend to refer explicitly to "submission" whereas Islam seems to emphasize obedience.

So then I took a look at Judaism and not just because my mother's family was and is Jewish so my fractured experience and understanding of Reformed Judaism informed my personal faith journey.

The first article I read is titled "The Four Fundamentals of Jewish Spirituality" and is the sermon of Rabbi Brian Field delivered Erev Rosh Hashanah 2016, which marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah--the Jewish New Year and the beginning of the Ten Days of Awe (or Repentance) that culminates on Yom Kippur.
Rabbi Field identified four tools to make the connection with God because of one of the most foundational scriptural statements that we are created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). The four are covenant, Torah, mitzvah, and teshuvah.

The Bible speaks often of covenant relationships. Field states that "[c]ovenantal relationships are relationships that matter so much that they shape who we are." Each of us experiences many covenantal relationships within our schools, our churches, our communities, and, of course, our families.

When we think of biblical covenants, we think of the promises God has made us. The covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David are foundational. Jews do not acknowledge the ultimate salvation covenant in the person of Christ whereas some Christians learn how the Old Testament covenants are fulfilled in Jesus.

An oversimplified explanation of Torah is that it is the books of the Old Testament. The Judaic concept of Torah is a little more than that, but it works for my purposes because it is the fundamental text from which Jews learn about Yahweh and what He expects of His people.

Rabbi Field explains mitzvah this way:
A mitzvah is a specific act at a specific moment.  It is a decision to act or not to act, to do or not to do.  It is an act that in its doing, reinforces the covenantal relationship.  More than a commandment, then, a mitzvah is a covenant–enhancer.

The fourth tool is teshuvah, which means "response" or "to turn." 

Another article shares the definition of spirituality offered by French philosopher Michel Foucault: "the search, practice, the experience by which the subject operates on himself the transformations which are necessary to access the truth." The other thing of particular interest to me from this article is that the author notes we "get almost nothing of Moses's spiritual experience. What we get are the Ten Commandments and all the laws that follow--the fruits of the spiritual experience, not the experience itself."

Yoram Raanan
I think it's true we tend to emphasize only the Ten Commandments and all of the laws, but I think we get far more than we realize and now I have to spend more time with Exodus 19 and Exodus 20. I think we get a glimpse of Moses's spiritual experience, and maybe more than a glimpse.

What's special about Jewish spirituality? There are more than two "signature marks of Jewish spirituality" listed through that link, but I'd like to focus on two. First, spirituality is "a means to fulfill the purpose for which you were created." Second, the Jewish concept of God is "both personal and transcendent. G-d is never defined." Judaism tends not to forget that God is infinite, which is why they might refer to Him as "The Infinite." It's harder to make your God human-sized when you think of Him as infinite.

I notice several things but these two come to mind first:

  • Most people seem to understand spirituality as the connective essence between a person and God.
  • We connect to God through our understanding and engagement with Scripture, through personal prayer and meditation, through the observance of whatever rituals or practices are elemental for that religion--fasting, worship, confession, etc.
I am struck by the reminder that too often human beings limit God or seem to try to make Him a puppet of our prayers and desires. I think I start contemplating God every day as "The Infinite," I might have a much more profound sensibility of who He is. 

Christians are the only ones who speak of the Trinity, but I wonder if we too often do the Spirit of The Infinite an embarrassing disservice. Back to John and Acts.

For now, then, I'll close with this from Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso:
Religion is the container for the life of the spirit. It is the gravity that anchors spirit to earth, translating the vision of the soul into the responsibility of the individual. In the best of all possible worlds, spirituality and religion are partners. The soul’s most profound experiences with a presence greater than the self are given form and articulation through liturgy, ritual and moral law. Religious forms, in turn, remain constantly open to the renewal of sacred moments. If spirituality at its best lifts us up, religion at its best keeps us rooted. Religion can test spiritual vision in the crucible of community and history. Spirituality can keep religion from forgetting the experience that formed its story. Religion keeps spirituality from selfishness; it reminds us of our obligations. Spirituality keeps religion from absolutism; it reminds us that the breath of God blows through each and every human soul.