Archive for February 2016

Spirituality in Daily Life: Reject the Box – Not the Mystery! || Mary Edwards

By Mary Coday Edwards
People House Featured Blogger

In last week’s blog, I mentioned three items relevant to this week’s:

1. Staying present to your current experience: basically, HOW is your NOW?
2. Not only does this NOW hold valuable information, it’s also where we experience Oneness with the Universe, Divine, Higher Consciousness, Gaia, Brahman, Ultimate Reality, Goddess/God, non-God, Light, Love (space limits the ways this concept is expressed), and
3. Spirituality seems to imply we are seeking a connection with something greater than ourselves.

So, combining those three items, did you experience anything when you read that last phrase of No. 2, words I used to describe the ineffable, the unexplainable, the Mystery? Did any of those limiting words cause a reaction within you? In your body? Is one of your emotions screaming at the edge of your consciousness? Did you stop reading at that point? Or is one rising gently, peacefully? Did a past memory surface, pleasant or unpleasant? What did I leave out that feels important to your experience? Do you believe that some of those words/images are just flat out wrong?

I encourage you to bring your awareness to WHAT you may be rejecting and WHY.

No one can tell us exactly what – or who – this Ultimate Reality really IS. Mystics and poets down through the eons have described their own experiences and thus have given us intimations of what this Reality may look like, but at the end of the day, all these terms are metaphoric variations.

A metaphor is used when we don’t know what something is in order to give it some sort of meaning that we can connect the concept to.

Feminist Christian theologian Sallie McFague says that to think metaphorically “… means spotting a thread of similarity between two dissimilar objects, events, or whatever, one of which is better known that the other, and using the better-known one as a way of speaking about the lesser known (Note 1, pg 15).

Scholar Ian Barbour first studied science and then religion, eventually drawing comparisons and differences between the two, in particular how both used metaphors, models, and paradigms to explain the unseen (Note 2). Barbour says that “Religious language often uses imaginative metaphors, symbols, and parables, all of which express analogies” (Note 3, pg 119).

Models & paradigms: Helpful, but not the same as Reality!

Some of these analogies evolve into models. For example, Western Christians are familiar with the metaphors of God as father, king/conqueror, to the point where the Divine is restricted to this patriarchal-defined reality, leaving analogical language behind. In parts of Latin America, the model of God as Liberator informs reality.

But the New Testament scriptures are replete with other metaphors, such as God as the woman seeking her coin. Although that is mentioned in the same Bible verse as the parable of the good shepherd, how many stained glass windows do you see depicting God as Woman seeking her lost coin? Or Jesus as a Mother Hen, gathering up her chicks under her wings (Note 4)? Neither of those metaphors even made it to model stage.

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And this is not just true of Western Christianity; I’ve seen and experienced this pattern repeat itself all over the world. Every religion, every sect, for the most part, has definite ideas about Ultimate Reality, leaving little wiggle room – in other words, little room left for Mystery. It’s the mystics who shatter the walls of their respective boxes.

Barbour goes on to explain how a model can then crystalize into a paradigm. A paradigm, whether in science or religion, includes metaphysical assumptions and captures the imagination of its adherents. In the process, a paradigm defines reality, determines what sort of questions can be asked, and what sort of tools are used to analyze this reality (Note 5).

“Doubt frees us from illusions of having captured God in a creed.”

We have inklings of this Otherness, but our words anthropomorphize this Otherness. When we say, “God is Love,” our human ideas, images, and definitions of love immediately surface. Whatever negative or positive attributes we associate with love are now imputed to the God we defined as love.

When we reject “God”, what we might really be rejecting is the metaphor, the model, or the paradigm presented to us as the only or primary version of Ultimate Reality.  Perhaps it was imposed upon us in our childhoods and it no longer fits our experience. Our world picture changes as we grow and change.

Additionally, if you’re reading this blog, you’re either my good friend or relative, and/or you’re interested in growing spiritually. As noted in last week’s blog, spirituality conveys the idea of living peaceably with ourselves, with each other, and with our natural environment. The global battle for religious supremacy still rages among us. Thinking metaphorically vs. in absolutes (OUR absolutes) about the Divine opens up a space of humility within us where we can cultivate kindness, gentleness, and compassion for our fellow travelers.

Barbour says that, “Doubt frees us from illusions of having captured God in a creed” (Note 6).

So does thinking metaphorically.


Note 1: McFague, Sallie. Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982, 1987.

Note 2: The atoms subatomic construct cannot be directly observed, but based on theories we’ve developed amazing technology, such as this computer I’m typing on, my cell phone, and information available at my fingertips due to the internet.

Note 3: Barbour, Ian. Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.

Note 4: Luke 15:8-10; Matthew 23:37

Note 5: For more information on metaphors, models, and paradigms, see Barbour, Religion and Science; Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study in Science & Religion; Harper & Row, 1974; and Kuhn, T.S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; University of Chicago Press, 1996 ed.

Note 6: Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative


About the Author: Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Spirituality in Daily Life: Defining Sprituality

By Mary Coday Edwards
People House Featured Blogger

The best thing about discussing spirituality these days is that no institution or organization owns its definition and, therefore, can place judgment on what you or I believe is significant to our own spirituality. Google it and within two seconds more than 14 million hits are at your disposal.

However, generally speaking, spirituality seems to imply a two-way search: We seek for a connection with something greater than ourselves and at the same time, seek through self-knowledge to live a fully human and integrated life (Carl Jung called this inward seeking “the inner call to individuation”).

This, of course, erroneously implies dualism. As mystics and poets have written about for eons–and now quantum physics points to ever more tangibly–this search for connection ends up with the understanding that we are truly interconnected, not only with each other but also cosmically. We are made out of star stuff. 

Spirituality, not religion, is the focal point for People House’s personal and spiritual growth endeavors. Quoting from People House’s website, “Spirituality is less about doing and more about being our truest, most authentic self everywhere we go.”

This first blog on Spirituality in Daily Life will look at other contemporary definitions of spirituality–a brief and non-exhaustive review.

PRACTICING SPIRITUALITY: It’s simple but not easy! 

What I suggest is that you read this with a pen and paper at hand and jot down any words that “ping” within you, anything that touches an emotional chord, whether it be joy, peace, fear, anger, anxiety, frustration, sadness, or happiness. And then locate that emotion within your body if possible. Is it in your gut? Chest? A specific chakra region? What and where is your body reacting to? Register this emotion non-critically–emotions aren’t good or bad, they just are (it’s what we do with these emotions that gets us in trouble!).

Why the emphasis on our bodies? Our thoughts wander to past memories and plans for dinner–we have a difficult time focusing on what’s happening right now.  Meanwhile, our bodies are always here, present to our experiences, and hence are amazing founts of wisdom and knowledge. So jot down where that emotion is registering and later sit with that prayerfully and humbly, asking for more understanding.

Spirit Quest

If you should follow through on this exercise, congratulations! You have just practiced a key component of spirituality: you were present to your current experience. This moment is all we have–the past is gone, the future hasn’t happened. The now holds the seeds to the future. When we’re not present to this moment not only do we miss valuable information, we miss the opportunity for self-knowledge necessary to live an integrated life. This present moment is where we experience the Divine, Spirit, Ultimate Reality–where we come face-to-face with God.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, calls this practice mindfulness and says it is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”

SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS: How NOT to be vague at the family reunion! 

Historically, spirituality has been used interchangeably as a synonym for religion. One was considered spiritual if one followed the institutionalized and structured system of beliefs, practices, and morals within a given religious framework.

However, in contemporary Western societies, we find an increasing number of people describing themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”  William James, author of the 1902 book The Varieties of Religious Experiences, is credited with beginning this separation of spirituality from religion. While they can, and do, overlap, it is possible to be spiritual without being religious and vice versa.

Eckhart Tolle believes that a growing number of followers of traditional religions–once they are able to let go of identifying solely with their dogma and rigid belief systems–are discovering the original depth that is veiled within their own spiritual tradition. Tolle goes on to say that they realize that how spiritual one is “has nothing to do with what one believes, but everything to do with your state of consciousness. This, in turn, determines how you act in the world and interact with others (Note 1).”

In Integrating Spirituality and Religion into Counseling, editors Craig S. Cashwell and J. Scott Young define spirituality as “the universal human capacity to experience self-transcendence and awareness of sacred immanence, with resulting increases in greater self-other compassion and love (Note 2).”

Editors Streib and Hood, in Semantics and Psychology of Spirituality: A Cross-Cultural Analysis, do not offer a definition, as they wanted their research participants to respond to spirituality in ways meaningful to them (Note 3, pg 121). The editors did, however, include Zinnbauer and Pargament definitions of religion as “search for significance in ways related to the sacred” and of spirituality as “search for the sacred,” where sacred refers not only to God and higher powers, but also to a wide variety of life’s experiences: “Virtually any dimension can be perceived as holy, worthy of veneration or reverence [and] . . . not necessarily rooted in beliefs about God (Note 3, pg 5).”

Streib and Hood also include William James’ definition of religion, “as feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” Spirituality, as it is used today, was not part of James’ 1902 lexicon; he used mysticism to express concepts inherent in spirituality (Note 3, page 6).

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Streib and Hood were seeking to capture how their research participants subjectively defined their own spiritualties.  In summarizing their conclusions, while finding no single concept of spirituality, Streib and Hood did identify 10 statistically significant characteristics. It is beyond the scope of this blog to further analyze these findings; these characteristics are included only as a tool to enable you to examine your own defining essentials. Note that these are not listed in order of importance nor were the participants asked to rank these attributes in order of importance – these are ways respondents defined their spirituality.  Following is the list, with short explanations given by the editors (Note 3, pgs 143-148):

1) A feeling of connectedness/oneness: Harmony with the universe, nature, and the whole

2) Part of religion: Christian belief

3) The higher self: Inner search for self, meaning, peace, and enlightenment – which following Abraham Maslow’s thinking, has to be sought and developed.

4) Ethics, values: Holding and everyday acting according to values and morality in relation to humanity; spirituality is often associated with the necessity to lead a moral life.

5) Belief in a higher power(s): Higher beings (deities, gods)

6) Belief in something beyond: Intuition of something of some being(s) that are unspecified, but higher than and beyond oneself. The participants chose not to further define the nature of the transcendent, but acknowledge its existence which they experience to be of importance.

7) Existential truth: Experiences of truth, purpose, and wisdom beyond rational understanding

8) Esotericism: Awareness of a non-material, invisible world, supernatural energies and beings (spirits, etc.)

9) Opposition to religion: Dogmatic rules and traditions

10) Individual religious praxis: Meditation, prayer, worship

So… did you feel any pings? What would you add? And how does spirituality manifest itself in your everyday life?


Note 1: Tolle, Eckhart. A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. Plume; 2006. Pages 18, 19.

Note 2: Cashwell, Craig S. and Young, J. Scott, Editors. Integrating Spirituality and Religion into Counseling, A Guide to Competent Practice. American Counseling Association, 2011. Ebook.

Note 3: Streib, Heinz and Hood, Ralph W. Jr., Editors. Semantics and Psychology of Spirituality: A Cross-Cultural Analysis. Springer, 2016.


About the Author: Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Ordained Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working, and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth