Monday, January 03, 2005

Donna and i attended a house concert last night with David Wilcox and wife Nance Pettit. The evening was focused on a series of "spiritual poems" that they had set to music, some well-known Christians (St Francis, Catherine of Sienna, St John of the Cross), as well as Sufis and other mystics. The music was great: just their two voices, trading off melody and harmony with an intimacy of partners singing together in their living room, accompanied by Wilcox's sparse but mellow guitar work, all unamplified, a little rough in spots, but very intimate and touching.

But i was bothered a bit by the vagueness of the all-inclusive spirituality expressed there. It's fine to talk of our general longing for God, and here i find common ground with many other spiritual traditions. But that commonality comes precisely because there isn't enough detail to disagree about.

For example, they were enthused about the poetry of a Persian poet named Rumi,

Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing,
There is a field. I will meet you there.

It's an appealing notion, but it doesn't hold up. "I will meet you there" implies a decision, which is ultimately a moral act: if i meet you there, it really is either right or wrong-doing, not some transcendance of moral ideas.

It's a little like courting your mate with flowers and love poetry: who could fail to be touched by that? But ultimately, after you have courted and married and established a life together, the garbage needs to be taken out, and you have to decide to get off the couch and commit. Simply reciting love poetry ("I am wind, you are fire") doesn't cut it. In the same way, vague notions of longing for spiritual life are not enough: you have to commit to who that God is, what his nature and character are, whether he is a general life force or a being separate from us . You need theology, not just poetry, to make a spiritual life. And theology is where you find out that all these traditions really aren't the same at all.


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