“What’s theological about music?”
My dissertation for my honours degree was about a theological approach to music (I later wrote my master’s degree thesis on this same topic). My supervisor was supposed to mark the final product, but it somehow ended up with a professor that I had never met. He didn’t like my work at all. When I went to see him, he gave me all sorts of excuses for why my mark wasn’t good, but I was able to show how I met every one of the criteria he mentioned. And that’s when he finally confessed, “When I saw your title I thought to myself: what’s theological about music?” I went straight from that meeting to apply for a remark, and got a much better mark the second time around.
When I think about this story, I am sometimes reminded of a comment a colleague once made about me. During a very ordinary conversation I must have made some remark about a theological perspective I had on the topic. She looked at me with a smile on her face and she said, “Everything is theological to you, isn’t it?” I couldn’t help laughing at her disbelief as I nodded. The truth is, I do believe that everything is theological. Or to put it another way, everything is spiritual.
OUR DUALISTIC PROBLEM
I am often surprised by the tendency we have in our society to separate spirituality from all sorts of other things, like food, exercise, our choice of clothing or cars, and even sex. It’s like we believe that our spiritual selves are completely separate from the rest of who we are and what we do. Perhaps this is related to the way we view our physical bodies as nothing more than a temporary dwelling for our ‘real’ spiritual selves. But it is deeply problematic if we see the stuff of our lives—our bodies, our routines, our relationships, our desires, our struggles—as separate from our spirits.
When we create this dualism between the physical, human life we know and the non-physical, spiritual life that we believe awaits us beyond the grave, we create a split within ourselves. We think of some things and some parts of ourselves, as ‘spiritual’ and others as ‘unspiritual’. And we unintentionally end up creating a barrier between the spiritual and the unspiritual which prevents them from informing or shaping one another.
When our lives are not spiritual, then our spirituality has nothing to say about economics, culture, science, race, gender, or sexuality. And when our spirituality is disconnected from our lives, then they lose their sacredness and how we live becomes disconnected from how we pray. In the context of this dualism it becomes completely possible for us to pray, worship, and participate in religious activities while living in ways that oppress and harm other people and our planet.
ENDING THE DUALISM
In his 2016 article We’re not “Just Passing Through”, Roger Wolsey cuts through this dualism and offers a different perspective:
You have heard it said, “We are not humans having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” And, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.“And, “You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.”
but I tell you,
“Humans are embodied, spiritual beings who are having an embodied, spiritual experience. That’s what a human experience is. We are human souls. We are human-spiritual beings.“
When we begin to embrace this view—that we are human-spiritual beings—everything changes. Everything becomes spiritual. Everything has a theology. Everything impacts our understanding of ourselves, the world, others, and God. And everything is connected with everything else and with the ultimate questions that guide our existence.
In my last two posts, I explored how important our longing for life is and how spirituality keeps it alive, and I examined what it means to live deep in order to have a richer, more meaningful life. Now I want to add that we cannot sustain our love for life and nor can we live deep if we root ourselves in a dualistic divide between what is spiritual and what is not.
LIVING A NON-DUAL LIFE
It may all sound very academic and theological to speak of dualism and non-dualism. But how does this actually impact the way we live and love in the daily routines of our lives? That’s where, I believe, an effective and authentic spiritual practice can make all the difference.
In the dualistic mindset, our spiritual practice is removed from our lives. We “go to church” where we “meet God” and “enter God’s presence” to worship. We invite the Holy Spirit to “come” and we leave the world and our struggles behind. And then we may have our daily “quiet time” where we read the Bible and pray, but when we’re done we go into the day. The main connection between these spiritual practices and our daily lives is that they ‘inspire’ us or ‘fill us with the Spirit’ so that we can make it through the week.
But in a non-dual mindset this all changes. A non-dual spirituality sees spiritual practice as the training we need to learn to recognise that everything is spiritual. Our spiritual practice teaches us to think beyond the dualisms, and to see the divine spirit within everything, including ourselves. It shows us how every action has a consequence and how our small choices each day impact the well-being of others and our planet. And our spiritual practice teaches us how to live with an awareness of the sacredness of all things so that we can make choices and perform actions that are creative, just, and life-giving. In short, our spiritual practice is where we learn how to live.
LEARNING TO LIVE
In a non-dual mindset, the words we use when we pray teach us how to speak lovingly and graciously to one another. The rituals we perform teach us how to act kindly and justly to one another. And the values, priorities, and habits that we nurture through our spiritual practice flow through every other part of our lives from eating, to shopping, to driving, to playing, and even to having sex.
If our spirituality is separated from our lives, it is meaningless and worthless. But when our practice shapes who we are and what we do in our human existence, it is priceless and transforming. And only this kind of spirituality can lead us into the deep connections and rich life that we all long for.
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