Discovering The Essence: How to Grow A Spiritual Practice When Your Religion is Falling Apart

Discovering the Essence will be published November 2020 through Anamchara Books. Here is a selection from the introduction.

Introduction

You are going to be okay.

There will come a time that this ‘“new normal.’”  will simply become normal.  There will be ways in which your future life will be much, much better than it was.  There are ways in which it will be  worse.  Mostly, it will simply be different.

You are going to be okay.

It’s not fun to be in that no man’s land between this and that.  It is scary and lonely.  .  But you are going to be ok.

There are many different names for this spiritual transition that we find ourselves in.  Each of them imports certain assumptions about the particulars of this experience.  None of these descriptors are perfect.  What they have in common is that they describe the exact opposite situation described in those timeless words of Amazing Grace.  We once were found, but now are lost.  Perhaps we feel like we now are blind, but we once could see.    

We might call it  liminal space.  The focus on this choice of words is that now we are between.  Broadly, literally  speaking liminal space can be as simple as the walk between the living room and the bedroom.  Or as heart-rending as the first night in an empty bed.  It is that time when we live without a script.   This book is most directly aimed at the millions occupying liminal space as we  transition out of the faith communities that served us for a season of our lives.  

It has also been described as a descent into our personal underworld.  We are like some mythological figure, traveling within ourselves, to face the ghosts of our past.  In his life-changing book Falling Upwards Richard Rohr describes this as spirituality for the second half of our life.  On this account, we began by building a symbolic castle.  Then we find ourselves leaving the castle that once seemed so precious to us.

A term which seems to have exploded in usage recently for this sort of transition is deconstruction.  Typically, the modern popular usage of the term deconstruction refers to the process of realizing a fundamentalist religious tradition (often evangelical Christianity) taught us many things which simply were not true.  The act of deconstructing is the act of reclaiming and disentangling the truth from the falsehood, and more importantly coming to know and to name the actual purpose of the things that were believed.  

Deconstruction is one of my favorite terms to describe this time.  It is also one of my least favorite words to describe this time.  It was appropriated from postmodern philosophy.  A group of rather staunch atheists would probably be rather upset at what has been down to their terminology.  It was not originally intended to apply to a person’s religious beliefs.

Nonetheless, it is a term which works in a wide variety of ways.  One of the elements of the word’s original meaning that has been maintained is the focus on discovering what the real purpose of our beliefs are.  For example, we might once have thought that we believe in an angry God because God is in fact angry.  Through an act of deconstruction, we might come to see that this view says more about our relationship with our own physical and Earthly  father  than it has to do with the actual creator of the universe.

The thing that all these different terms have in common is that they denote the work of a person who is working at discovering the essence of spirituality.  A journey through liminal space is one that hopes to find a meaningful destination.  A descent into the underworld is terrifying, but surely there must be something precious we are after if we are willing to undertake it.  Rohr’s spirituality for the second half of life is one characterized by a search for a deeper meaning than we knew before.  Deconstruction is an act of finding what is nonnegotiable and of prime importance.  Discovering the essence is one of the most important things we will ever do.  

At the time I began my season of transition, I thought maybe it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.  As I look back on it, I think just maybe it was one of the best.  I wish somebody had told me that someday I would see the whole thing in such a different light.  That is why I am writing this book: out of my desire that I might be that person for you.

It is going to be ok.  It is going to be more than ok.  It might just be the best thing that has ever happened to you.