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Guest Post: What Spiritual Looks Like

Originally uploaded by clyde_curtis

A thought-provoking guest post from one of our favorite commentors, G. (The artwork is by her, too!)

“It is in our extremities that we come to know God” – Unknown

In my mind, there has always been an association between spirituality and suffering. If not outright suffering, at least a life of solemnity, seriousness, and sacrifice. Being spiritual was always pretty important to me. Whether I was naturally inclined towards it or it was was the default role I fell into in my family (‘pretty one’ ‘smart one’ and ‘athletic one’ where already taken) I can’t say. This is merely how it was.

A little shy and introverted already, the perceived requirements of monastic living came rather easy. In high school I frequently stayed home weekend nights and read the scriptures while other siblings went out and partied. As a missionary I was the one who got up an hour (or more) earlier to spend extra time studying and memorizing the discussions and scriptures. Even after returning home from the mission I dressed (rather prudishly) in dimly colored second-hand skirts, a lack-luster wardrobe seeming to go hand in hand with higher thoughts.

What I find especially interesting is the way in which I associated mybouts with de pression with my spirituality. Depression was a double edged sword where on the one hand I viewed it as resulting from sin (I vividly remember a talk by Sheri L. Dew where she stated something to that effect and I sobbed at the authoritative validation of my sins and unworthiness) yet on the other hand it seemed that the pain of my depression drew me closer to God. I don’t know exactly how to explain this, but in a way, the emotional wounds I felt became a sort of twisted token of the atonement, where I felt Christ’s pain and knew Him better because of it. Often my art reflected my pain, images of pierced hearts and little cuts and I viewed these as my religious icons, symbolic both of my own wounded soul and of the pierced flesh of the Savior.

But now I am conflicted. I do not feel so wounded any more. I no longer feel so cut up. I don’t want to say I won’t ever struggle with depression again (Knock-on-wood) but I am loosing my melancholy, my severity, my prudishness. In fact, I feel rather… frisky? Lighthearted and enjoying life. A sense of levity. I quite surprised myself the other day when I went shopping for a bathing suit (hadn’t bought one in seven years, it was about time) and found that the one I liked the most was a brilliant turquoise bikini. (!!!) I found myself thinking how much fun it would be to go to the beach, or have a pool party. Thinking about the beach is rather new for me and occasionally I have a hard time reconciling this with my ‘spiritual’ sensitivities, worrying that I have lost my touch.

Really, it brings to mind that story about the person who went to see the prophet, Joseph Smith, and was shocked and offended to find him rough-housing with the children, thinking that a ‘prophet of god’ would not behave like that. People have ideas about what a spiritual person looks like, acts like. I realized I have an array of different molds I use when casting my ideal mystic; the LDS version, the non- LDS version, the Christian version, the non-Christian version, the male version, the female version, etc… What I realized when looking at bathing suits and thinking about playing volleyball on the beach, was that none of my molds contain that person; a fun-loving game-playing social person.

Is Spirituality compatible with levity? I’m willing to find out. In the meantime… what are your thoughts on the subject? What are your own ideals of what spirituality looks like and acts like? And in what way do those ideals pertain to how you view yourself?

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Justine says:

    I believe this to be a matter of great personal distinction. I don’t think we feel spirituality in a uniform way.

    I’m afraid I’m the complete opposite of serious. I tend to make light of everything. I, however, find enormous joy and peace in my happy relationship with the Lord. For me, that is what spirituality looks like. It looks light, breezy, happy, content, sweet, smiling.

    But, I don’t think it has to look that way for each person. Deep spirituality, I believe does not have to be serious, but neither does it have to be light.

    My relationship with the Lord is one of great happiness in my life, and as such, I just can’t help but crack a smile or skip down the sidewalk.

  2. Jana says:

    G:
    I feel like I could have written this post. The intensity of my earlier religious dogmatism has given way to an ebullience and joy that rather surprises me.

    I suspect that I’m a much funner person to hang out with these days, too 🙂

  3. Julie says:

    One of the most spiritual moments of my life was floating on my back in the ocean in a bikini singing happy birthday to myself. I have always been sort of the opposite of you in my personal feeling towards spirituality – it more often inolves levity, celebration, and communion with nature. I would be at home in a black congregation singing and clapping.

  4. Caroline says:

    I enjoyed reading this, G.

    I’m beginning to think that joy is a very spiritual emotion. When we feel joy in our connectedness to God, to nature, to each other, well…. that seems like such a spiritual place to be.

  5. EmilyCC says:

    I feel silly saying this, but I think I often equate suffering with spiritual growth. And, it’s only been recently that I’ve thought, “Wait, I don’t have to suffer to progress. I can continue to grow without being in the midst of a trial.”

    I wonder if I came to this conclusion because so often, we hear from our church leaders that trials are helpful in the growth they provide. Maybe I just tune out the part where we’re also supposed to find joy.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, G.!

  6. FoxyJ says:

    When I was in the MTC I remember my companion and I really struggling with the idea of “quiet dignity”. It was really hammered into us that we were supposed to be demure and dignified as sister missionaries. Well, I’m really not all that quiet or dignified and after a few months of soul-searching I decided that God was OK with me cracking jokes with people or smiling and laughing a lot. I think it is possible to be too silly with sacred things, but it also just as possible to be light-hearted without being light-minded.

  7. Kiri Close says:

    Like happiness, spirituality for me is singularity based on an ever-so-personal 1 on 1 connection and dialogue between me & my heavenly parents. If there is anything I keep most sacred and am most proud of, it is that relationship I have with the folks upstairs. Everyone else can kiss my sweet brown a**.

    Who cares what human, social LDS norms demand? Just be your-fabulous-self, either loud or quiet (or both!), homemaker or career gal (or both!), traveler or homebody (or both!)…well, you get the picture. You don’t even need a label or a language to be who you truly are.

    I once had a RS president advise me not to travel to foreign countries (since she knew of my love to backpack globally even on a whim). Very clearly, she advised me out of fear & not out of a genuine inspiration to protect me.

    So what did I do? I did the spiritual thing and kept on being myself landing in Mongolia for a week trekking my heart out with no regret, and no care for what this small minded RS President said out of her own fear.

    I learned right there and then that it would’ve been unhealthy for me to participate in her immoveable bubble of unhappiness and fear of which she entrapped herself in by choice (and didn’t even realize it). There was no way I was going to do what she wanted.

    Since her kind of personality reveals how often the proof is in the pudding, it was no surprise to me that she and her husband weren’t happy (man, that marriage was over a LONG TIME AGO), and that her young daughter often wanted to be near me in church asking about all the strangely attractive jewelry and clothing I would wear from different countries.

    I’m not asking for everyone to be like me (how boring that would be for ME!). But I am asking for people to seek a singularity of spiritual self. For me, it comes in my seeking an ongoing connection with the almighty power couple above(and the conversations we have had!!!). For others, it is my hope they find their own way toward this.

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