Monday, January 31, 2011

daily beauty

I forgot to mention in my last (that is, my first) post that I also feel that my time at the gym-- a practice that my partner and I have recently re-taken up for the new year-- is certainly a spiritual practice.  I find it's easier to let my mind wander and clear itself if my body is occupied, and getting my heart rate up for a while just feels good.  It makes me feel alive, connected to existence, and (eventually!) makes me feel more energized.  It's also a celebration of the power of choice, an example of a positive trajectory for life, that I feel strong and grateful to be able to do, both in terms of will power, schedule, and finances.  

But what I really wanted to get out there tonight was the idea of the Daily Office.  I've been fascinated with monastic life for years, and this morning I learned in a class I'm taking at BU that in this context the word "Office" apparently means "Beauty."  I think this is just lovely.  

It is something I think anyone would welcome.  Imagine taking time every day, in a disciplined way that works for you, to remind yourself and others of the beauty of existence.  This is naturally what the purpose of these monastic offices are, to remind the monks that God is there, and we are here to commune with God.  However, bringing the idea out of the monastery and into our contemporary lives, and interpreting God as anything beautiful, lovely, or (when it comes down to it) anything and everything that exists, seen and unseen, felt and thought-- it makes sense to consider making a spiritual practice out of noticing the beauty all around us on a regular basis-- daily beauties.  

I feel spiritual practice is necessary, and I believe it comes in as many forms as there are people.  The trick is to figure out what form yours needs to (or already does) take and, as Joseph Campbell advised, follow your bliss.   

Thursday, January 27, 2011

beginning the journey

Hi.  My name's Nick MacDonald, and I'm a student of theology, a musician, and a teacher.  This blog serves as the journal I am expected to keep as a part of the course entitled "Spirituality in the Contemporary World" (since I was so very inspired by Professor Pui Lan's artful introduction of the art of blogging!).  What a wonderful way to share our inspirations and musings with one another.

I was struck as the first class unfolded, as I'm sure many were, with how incredibly relevant the material we will cover is to our lives as seekers of something greater, a purpose, a meaning that goes beyond words.  I have recently finished Harvey Cox's The Future of Faith, which gives voice to this pervasive need for an injection of spirituality into religion.  I see spirituality as a way of life, an orientation toward ourselves and each other that focuses on wellness, love, compassion, and a cultivation of a sense of the sacredness and interconnectedness in every moment.

Growing up in a Unitarian Universalist fellowship, I must admit that I have been surprised that this does not seem to already be the primary focus of many religions today.  This is not to say that UU's have it figured out (by any stretch of the imagination!), but like many people in search of religion I grew up with the feeling that our faith and philosophy show most clearly and most importantly in how we act toward others and ourselves.  In many of us there is an urge inward rather than upward, a need to build community from the inside out, rather than from the top down, and the desire to take responsibility, expand consciousness, and work toward an implementation of our values and principles in our thoughts, actions, and relationships.

In this class I look forward to expanding my understanding of what spiritual practice is, what it can be, and how to facilitate others in building their own.  As for me right now, I have no specific spiritual "regimen," in part because I believe every thought and every action, in its essence, when divested of its pretense to mundanity, is a meditation, a prayer, a powerful opportunity to tap into the sacred.  All of life is sacred; the kingdom of God is spread among us, only we do not always see it.

Of course, this paradigm of Gospel eyes (which I sometimes like to call Creative Consciousness) is still something for which I strive, and this striving involves primarily the immersion of myself in certain practices--the most pervasive and powerful of which is music.  Singing, playing, teaching, creating and otherwise experiencing the aural arts is deeply tied not only to my vocation but also to the sheer pleasure of living.  It provides joy in times of celebration, solace in times of despair, and peace in times of contemplation.

I believe a good soundtrack is all you need to reveal the beauty inherent in any moment.

In spiritual practice I seek an opening of myself to new possibilities, an engagement with the creative impulse that animates all things.  Sometimes church will do this; more often it can be found with the people I love, the art I pursue, the spontaneity of travel (staring out the window of a bus or train is remarkably centering to me), or the comfort of a coffeeshop and a notebook.

I so look forward to exploring the endless ideas of what spirituality entails.  I know we will all learn so much from each other, and I hope we will be surprised and enriched by both our similarities and our differences.  In this course I do expect to encounter the spirit-- in each of us and all around.