December 21st, 2008

Spiritual Practice

I read a review of the measure of a man taking Poitier to task for subtitling his book "a spiritual  autobiography" and even for writing it at all since he had already written an autobiography just a few years earlier.  He referred to the book as an exploitative marketing strategy (Black + celebrity + spirituality) and suggested that the chapter "Stargazing" in which most of the alleged spiritual references allegedly occur was thrown together at the publishers insistence to justify the "spirituality" as a marketing strategy.  The reviewer (a noted historian, by the way, or I wouldn't bother writing about him here) seemed offended that Poitier is not a born-again Christian or a new age guru, and considered the so-called "spiritual" references to be a bunch of Cliches.

Cliches?  Yeah, maybe.  Spiritual insights are probably as old as our species, and likely older (Jean Auel, Clan of the Cave Bear).  By now  any spiritual insight that anyone comes up with is likely to have come up before in the statements of some aboriginal shaman, Hindu yogi, Taoist sage, Hebrew Psalmist, Christian or Sufi mystic, or somebody else.  The same Taoist, Christian and Sufi ideas are expressed over and over in almost identical words, and I have never heard anybody complain except a few secularists and protestants who regard any form of contemplation or mysticism as useless (secular) or dangerous (protestant).

One thing the reviewer missed among  Poitier's alleged mishmash of Voodun, Judeo-Christian, and new age truisms is the fact that acting, for Sydney Poitier seems to have been a "vocation" and even a spiritual practice.  And for that insight, I am indebted to him, and for that insight alone, his book was worthwhile to me.

Again this insight is probably older than our species.  First peoples live "spirit-filled" lives in which the mystery is all around them and within them all the time.  Luther, when he broke with the Church, reminded us that "ordinary" life is as much a "vocation" as the "religious" life.  A couple years ago I read somewhere
that a person's relationship with a spouse, partner, friend, can be his or her "spiritual practice."  But I need to be reminded again and again of this.

Seven years ago, I retired from work so that I could spend most of my time with my spouse who was becoming increasingly disabled because of osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and several other problems all on top of a lifelong struggle with cerebral palsy.  This was not a 24 hour a day thing.  I had plenty of time to do volunteer work, and plenty of time for myself to contemplate and just be autistic.  When she broke her hip in May and her ankle in August, my volunteer work ended and my quiet time shrunk almost beyond my level of tolerance.  Fortunately, I love my spouse, and I was able to keep my frustration mostly under control.
(I had already been on anti-depressants for 20 years and that probably helped a lot.)

The idea, suggested by Brother Lawrence  (Practice of the Presence of Christ), that one can form a spiritual practice in any situation has made me kinder and my caregiving more fulfilling to me.  I am trying to develop my half of this relationship into a "spiritual practice."