I read recently that the spiritual life is, above all, rooted in the practical experience of love. Normally I don’t worry about a short, pithy quote while I’m reading a great novel, but I really like this author. And the quote bothered me a bit. I am worried it is true.

When I think of the word “spiritual,” my mind goes to darkened, candle lit rooms. A solitary monk is in the basement of a monastery, pouring over some parchment written in an ancient tongue. The monk spends his life praying and fasting; he speaks only at appointed times. He lives in his own little room. He hangs out with other monks. And if they’re together they do spiritual things — like reading psalms to each other or singing hymns together — things that would generally cause my friends to flee. If the monk isn’t doing something very spiritual and contemplative, that’s because he’s sleeping. At all other times he’s in pondering how great God is or reading a psalm in Latin.

Or take my spiritual life. It is a miniature version of the monk’s. To be spiritual in my life means getting up early — when I wouldn’t want a conversation with an actual human — so I can read my bible and pray and talk to God. And I realize this is part of it. I need time to be myself with God all alone. But what about the rest of my life? There is little time I am completely alone.

What worries me is that my spiritual life is mostly about early mornings with my bible and a cup of coffee. It worries me that true spiritual life is, basically, life. It is not about reciting psalms in latin. It is about loving people. The practical experience of love. It’s about loving competitors at soccer games when I would rather kick them in the shins. It’s about loving co-workers and listening to their hopes and happenings in life. The spiritual life is about laughing at a spilled drink rather than complaining or getting angry. It is having a glass of lemonade on a cool spring evening with someone you care about or talking on the phone late at night with someone whose marriage is falling apart. It’s buying a meal for a homeless man or simply keeping in touch with friends.

Sometimes these things are easy. I like lemonade, and it’s easy to care for people I like. Unless I don’t want to, or am a little too busy. Then this “practical love” is not so easy. It is hard. The spiritual life is hard. Usually I don’t want to take time out of my schedule to care for people. I don’t want to laugh with someone if I’m in a bad mood. I don’t want to shake hands with the jerk soccer team that just beat us.

But, I am learning to trust God’s forgiveness and patience. I am learning to see that walking with God is not so much what I do alone but rather what I do with others. How I show God’s love to others. And my prayer is that my life — and all our lives — would be rooted in the practical experience of love. May we be a people willing to laugh and cry, willing to enjoy life, and willing to show kindness and love even when we don’t feel like it. This is the spiritual life.

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