How do I Know I am Spiritual?
by Tom Baker
It has been said that young men think of sex every 7 seconds. That mothers with young children think of their babies every 3 seconds. The elderly think of their bathroom habits, sometimes with fascination, more often than younger folks. But how often do people think of God? Not very often. Once a day, once a week, once a month, twice a year at Christmas and Easter. There are no advertisements or commercials that talk about God (that I know of) and even commercial announcements for churches often talk more about the community than God. When I was a priest I tried to talk about God but more often than not the subject was quickly changed, often to my relief, from God to church politics. If you change God to Divine Love with a captital DL it works a little bit better, but God, for the most part, has been edged out (Ego: edge God out). Serious people do not mention God or Divine Love unless they're cussing or joking or dying. My father, an avowed atheist all his life told my sister he was ready to go to heaven. But Daddy, my sister said, you don't believe in heaven. He said, " I'm changing my mind."
At first I would say that spiritual begins by putting God first. Thinking about God more. What we think about is what we tend to live toward. If I think about God a lot I will begin to exhibit the nature of God: kindness, generosity, tenderness, honesty, trust, joy, mercy, open-mindedness. That would be thinking about God twice a day. But God as St. Augustine said, "Is invisible and silent." So where is God? God is among us, through us. The thrill of Jesus is that God appears in a man, the same with our modern saints: Gandi, Eckhart Tolle, Ram Das, Bruce Shelton, my wife. Everyone of you and me too.
Most of us are pushed into spiritual. As long as our dreams are coming true, our wishes are fulfilled, as long as the Disney movie we're living is working out, God is a distant relative who lives in a faraway place, a distant relative who is easy to contact but doesn't talk much. Then the dream fails, wishes fade, and the Disney movie ends unhappily. That's when we stop. There's always this moment when we decide to give control of our lives to a power greater than ourselves. In AA, in disease, in intense unhappiness. God says, "Is it working for you." And we have to say, "No."
In my own life I failed at teaching the 7th grade, my fiance' fell in love with another guy, and my father would not let me work at his company. Then I saw the picture so clearly there was almost no decision to make: Give your life to God. Study for the priesthood. And it started working for me. I loved theology, I loved visiting the sick and I loved giving little talks, like this one, about God. What I had not counted on was that by ministering to others I would become spiritual myself. Considering my uniform it was a requirement. I've told you what a thrill it was when people asked for my blessing. Fr. Jeremiah my professor of church history rushed up to me, grabbed me by my shoulders and said, "I want to be the first. Give me your blessing brand new Father Tom. It's the best of luck and grace to receive a priest's first blessing." As a priest I had the rather wonderful experience of being with the dying because I was always called for the Anointing of the Sick, that was the official term but everybody called it the Last Rites. I thought of it as getting ready for the big trip. One patient I gave the last rites to was named George. He had liver cancer. His liver was the size of a watermelon and he only had a few days to live. When I met him I was startled to see that he was bright orange. After I anointed him he said he wanted to plan his funeral. He wanted his funeral to be the Monday morning after his death. Then he said something that floored me. "My wife won't be there. That's her bowling day. Any day you pick will be her something day, book club on Tuesday, quilting on Wednesday, and so forth. She keeps busy so she won't have to think about things. She has agreed to come to my burial after her bowling league." I was angry at her thoughtlessness. When he saw the anger in my eyes he patted me on the arm. "My wife is afraid of dying Father so the mass would be too much, but she loves the peace of cemataries so she can come to the burial. Don't be mad Father. She needs yours and my understanding." That man was spiritual, he used his understanding to love his wife. The non-spiritual thing was my knee jerk reaction: write her off. I was too judgmental to understand. For the non-spiritual, judgments are not questioned. For the spiritual all judgments are left to God who only sees the love he created everyone to be.
The spiritual is also engaged, one with the other, and non-opposed. The ego wants an enemy while the spirit seeks out a friend. We often make enemies with the best intentions. Terry Dobson, an Aikido master, was traveling on a train in Japan when an enormous drunk man came onto the train. The drunk pushed people around and made a dangerous nuisance of himself, screaming and threatening people. Terry prepared to take him down with his Aikido skills, to eliminate the drunk when he heard someone shout "hey" the hey was both ear-splitting and strangely joyous as if one old friend was calling to another. Both drunk and Terry turned and saw an old Japanese man in his 70's, a tiny man dressed immaculately in his kimono. "Come here," the old man said beckoning to the drunk, "Come here and talk with me." He waved his hand lightly. The big man followed as if on a string. "Why should I talk to you?" the drunk bellowed at the old gentleman. The old man beamed at the drunk. "Whatcha been drinkin'" he asked, his eyes sparkling with interest. "I've been drinking sake and it's none of your business." "Oh, that's wonderful," the old man said, "absolutely wonderful. You see I like sake too. Every night me and my wife, she's 76 you know, we warm up a little bottle of sake and we take it out in the garden and we sit on our old wooden bench and we watch the sun go down and we look to see how our persimmon tree is doing. My great grandfather planted that tree and we worry about whether it will recover from those ice storms we had last winter. Our tree has done better than I expected though, especially when you consider the poor quality of the soil. It is gratifying to watch when we take our sake and go out to enjoy the evening even when it rains." The old man looked up at the drunk, his eyes twinkling. As he struggled to follow the old man's conversation, the drunk's face began to soften. His fists slowly unclenched. "Yeah," the drunk said, "I love persimmons too." His voice trailed off. "Yes," said the old man, I'm sure you have a wonderful wife." "Naw," said the drunk, "My wife died." Very gently, swaying with the motion of the train, the big man began to sob. "I don't got no wife. I don't got no home. I don't got no job. I'm so ashamed of myself." Tears rolled down his cheeks. A spasm of despair rippled through his body. The train arrived at Terry's stop and as the door opened Terry heard the old man say sympathetically, "My, my that's a difficult predicament. Sit down here and tell me all about it. The drunk sprawled on the seat, his head in the old man's lap. The old man was softly stroking the drunk's filthy matted hair. Now that is spiritual. Love engaged with shame.
Now you say that's amazing, I couldn't do that. What an amazing man, Christ in a Kimono. When it comes to you, you are a nobody in the spiritual community, t you are the littlest angel in the great choir, your treasures are not crystals and crosses and diplomas from mystery schools but just some pictures of the people you love and who love you. And with each picture comes the memory of helping someone who, at the time, felt themselves to be the least of their brothers or sisters. You have been the old man stroking the matted hair of the drunk, except they were your child or your spouse or a friend or anyone who ever felt themselves to be lost, even for a short time. You were God for them and they made it home. That's spiritual.
So let's put spiritual a different way. How often do you think of the people you love: twice an hour, every fifteen minutes. How often do you give thanks for those people? How often are you truly helpful? Rather often I suspect. Your voice may be the smallest voice in the choir but its purity brings the other angels to tears.
© Copyright Tom Baker 2014