Spirituality and Meditation, by Andrew J. Schatkin

The other day, I had a brief conversation with a neighbor of mine in front of my cooperative building. I mentioned to her that I was proceeding to a church service, and her response was: “Well I am very spiritual.” Again, in a dialog with another guest on a television show this guest also said she was spiritual. Third, I have encountered where I live several young people handing out cards selling meditation events and sessions.

I intend no criticism of the persons who made this comment about being spiritual and who were selling meditation sessions but I do not precisely understand what they meant by being spiritual and recommending meditation. I find the use of these terms have little or no meaning and that the persons who made these statements have little or no understanding of religious belief. The term “spiritual” is vague and has no connection with any moral or ethical system. The best that can be said is that they represent vague attempts to reach, understand, and relate to god.

What my neighbor meant here probably, and the TV guest, and the girls selling meditation, was that like most people they all had some sense of the spiritual or the transcendent. In some sense, that feeling of otherworldliness, transcendence or spirituality, is the beginning of religious belief of some sort. It is the beginning point of seeing something beyond ourselves, our own immediate selfish concerns and the material world and our daily activities in it.

Unfortunately, that is not the Christian belief system. In Christianity, Jesus states that belief and faith in him alone is the only way to have eternal life. Jesus makes many claims on our minds and consciousness. He claims, if not to be god then to have a connection to God. He tells us that he is the only way and there is no other. He tells us that in the Cross our sins are forgiven, that he rose from the dead, something that no one else has ever done in history and that by following him and his teachings we will be remade and regenerated as persons in his image. This is what he means and meant by sonship. He offers us and demands of us higher ethical standards that are almost impossible to fulfill such as loving our neighbor as ourselves without the possibility of return from that person. He commands us to give away our good and live in poverty, tells us the poor and poor in spirit are blessed, and tells us that the meek will inherit the earth and that to look at a woman with lust is commit adultery. He offers us unconditional love and he also tells me that in the end there will be a judgment in which we will gain eternal life, joy, and happiness with him in his presence or suffer eternal death. He tells us that in his sacrifice on the cross he ended our broken and twisted relationship with God and has brought us back into the relationship that we had lost. He tells us that a life devoted to self and material enrichment is a mistake. He tells us that the object of life is to serve and not to gain power over others.

In short, I take issue with my neighbors and guest and sellers of meditation that the Christian religion or any religion is to be reduced if not watered down to some vague notion of the spiritual and self involved meditation sessions and spirituality. This is weak, meaningless thinking and the use of these terms is to cover weak meaningless thinking. It allows for religious belief to be shaped and to emerge not from deep and profound thinking but from some sort of feeling good about yourself and others; it implies by the use of these terms spirit, spirituality and meditation that you know something and can shape your life and affect and change the lives of others. As a Christian who adheres to the historical Christian faith, I part ways to the use of terms that have no actual meaning and that only service to darken obscure and mislead. At least for me, the creedal historical Christian faith involves a whole host of thoughts and thinking that represent 2,000 years of theological and philosophical development. Spirituality and meditation fail to account for the reality of sin and evil and our selfish human nature and the startling and unpleasant reality of six genocides in the last century.

In short, the writing of St. Augustine, the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas, the writings of Calvin, Luther, Bonhoeffer and John Paul II, as well as John Bunyan in his autobiography “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,” all go far beyond the vagueness and shallowness in confusing profound religious thinking with the coverall terms of spiritual, spirituality, and meditation.