Last month when I officially joined Spiritual Director's International and was filling out my online profile, I got stuck at what I imagine for many would be a simple question to answer--my "spiritual affiliation."
The profile form provided an extensive drop-down menu of choices for indicating one's spiritual affiliation. By extensive I mean 56 different choices! And more than forty of those choices were variants of Christianity, nearly all of them denominations found within American Christianity: four Baptist variations, five Catholic, nine under the heading "Christian" plus all the recognizable (and some not so recognizable) denominational names--Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker. You get the idea.
The major world religions were there: Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim (plus Muslim Sufi). Native American spirituality. New Thought. Yoga.
I felt dizzied and confused. Where do I fit among these so called "spiritual affiliations" (which looked much more like religious affiliations or religious identities to me)? What is my spiritual affiliation these days? How would I choose to describe my own spirituality?
What I knew most clearly was that I didn't really want to have to define myself in this way. While I could understand that it might be helpful to someone who might come looking for a spiritual director of a certain orientation or persuasion, I could feel my interior dislike of being too tightly defined rising up.
I believe this dislike is two-fold: it's a resistance to defining myself as well as a resistance to defining the Sacred! First, there's my not wanting others to expect me to represent any school of thought or any religious body or outlook, to feel straight-jacketed in any religious or spiritual way. I want to be free to trust and to speak from my own wisdom in whatever way that presents itself to me, to claim my own spiritual authority (which I believe is everyone's birthright).
And second, I am honestly happiest when I decline to define "the Sacred," "the Holy" or "Ultimate Concern"or whatever term one might use. I am happy to speak of my lived experience in the most concrete and physical (yet metaphorical) language I can find, including the language of paint. But even that has limits.
Yesterday I tripped over a quote that sums up my stance beautifully: "It is best to have an intimate relationship with God and best not to insist that She exists." (It's attributed to Carla Ansantina-- and I have no idea who that is!) To which I would add: and best not to insist on just how She exists.
Having spent at least twenty-five years of my life lending my mind and my voice, and sometimes, I have to admit, bending my mind and my voice to think through and speak through the Christian tradition in its Anglican/Episcopal incarnation, I now gladly embrace my freedom not to. My freedom neither to feel required to translate my primary experiences into the language and imagery and stories of the Judeo-Christian tradition, nor to have to translate those stories, imagery and language for others. (As I write this, I am stopping to consider that I've paid a price for that freedom, still pay a price for that freedom, and perhaps I will write about that some day soon. But now right now.)
In the middle of the alphabetical list of spiritual affiliation options I paused to consider the two "Inter" choices--Interfaith and Interspirituality. I know I'm not truly interfaith, though I have great respect and sympathy for those who draw deeply from more than one great faith tradition.
So what about Interspirituality? I had never encountered the term before (and frankly wondered if the folks at Spiritual Directors International had made it up, perhaps in response to a number of their members). It sounds a little too vague and wispy for my taste. So I passed over it.
In truth, I could have chosen Other and then done my best to describe my spiritual affiliation in terms of my history--raised a Unitarian Universalist, drawn to Anglican/Episcopal music and liturgy, crossed over into Christianity, ordained an Episcopal priest, trained in Ignatian and Benedictine spirituality, then left ordained ministry and crossed back again to. . . what exactly?
Or, I could have chosen Other and then done my best to describe my spiritual affiliation in terms of where I am right now--which is kinda, sorta UU in thinking (is there a univocal sort of thing? I doubt it), kinda sorta still fond of much Episcopal tradition and liturgy (if you could excise a lot of the words and drop the doctrine and. . . ), and profoundly and happily agnostic most of the time as well as deeply connected to Whatever via the natural world and the creative processes of painting and drawing.
Maybe I wimped out when I selected Anglical/Episcopal and moved on. Is that really the best descriptor of my current spiritual affiliation? Perhaps not. Maybe Interspirituality is. Or that wonderfully wide open Other.
Hmmm. I might just have to go back and edit my profile.