Would You Recognize a Spiritual Awakening?

| 2/5/2010 5:27:02 PM

Tags: Spirituality, faith, calling, awakening, mid-life, menopause, postmodern culture, Paula Huston, Christin Century, Julie Hanus,

Would you recognize a spiritual calling?

Writing for Christian Century, Paula Huston recounts her mid-life spiritual crisis, a period of awakening and conversion that derailed the writer and set her upon a new track. In the retelling, Huston shares some thoughts about the difficulty of coming to terms with a spiritual calling in a postmodern culture—where menopause, for example, at first seemed an easy explanation for the mounting disruption in her life. They’re keen observations worth checking out regardless of your spiritual or religious persuasion:

Many obstacles held me back, some of them mundane. One was simple embarrassment: I was nervous about what others thought, especially my university colleagues. It was bad enough that I’d become a Catholic after years of loyalty to secular liberalism. Most of them had forgiven me; with much eye-rolling they had accepted my wacky, medieval-sounding Christian pilgrimage. But could they handle whatever was coming next? I myself couldn’t imagine what this might be, only that it boded ill for my good name on campus.

I was also stymied by an overdeveloped sense of duty. I was a middle-aged adult, after all, a person with responsibilities. Who did I think I was, dreaming of solitude and silence and the clear blue air of Paul’s third heaven? I had students, classes, deadlines and wifely and parental obligations. In some ways, it felt sinful to even think about making the changes that I needed to make if I were going to respond to the calling I was hearing.

. . . Finally, I was impeded by a problem I never knew I had: my hidden but stubbornly entrenched skepticism about the existence of the spiritual realm. Like most postmodern Westerners, I grew up in a culture permeated with empiricist notions about reality. Philosopher Charles Taylor writes that often we consciously hold one set of values and assumptions but unconsciously live by another. . . .  My hidden skepticism provided me with a hundred handy doubts right when I most needed them. Maybe all this disruption could be blamed on menopause after all. Maybe it was strictly a psychological event—the ego overcompensating for an inferiority complex? People delude themselves all the time, don’t they?

1/22/2011 11:52:56 AM

If political discussion in current times could be as insightful and mindful as these comments the world would be in a better place. Thanks everyone. An incredibly simple thought crossed my mind one day not spurred on by anything but a beautiful day and my meager brain. It seems highly likely that religious premises (afterlife, heaven, eternally sitting next to the Creator) are results of the human mind not being able to wrap itself around alternative possibilities. Nothing profound, nothing eloquent, nothing deep in that idea. But then, I am Occum.

geoff hoare
1/21/2011 11:57:32 AM

Far more impressed by the courteous critical thinking expressed in the comments than in the original article! Kudos people! These late in life conversions seem to be a feature of some H. sapiens, thinking of Malcolm Muggeridge and others, and this mystery seems to be part of the general interesting question of why so many humans have strong convictions about the existence of spiritual realms, holding on to them despite even the most broad educations, thinking here of Francis Collins, Kenneth Miller, and so many others.

shirley hodge
1/21/2011 10:15:00 AM

Raised in an old fashioned Presbyterian affiliated family I began to question the fallacy of Presberyterian theology by age 14 so I commenced a journey that was to last for several years, a journey that included reading the usual theological tomes, the Bible, the Koran, and much of the writings of Judean theology, Bhuddist philosophy, et al until I came to my spritual conversion. I was able to free myself of all the mythology and superstition that is called religion and realized that the so called spiritual aspect of human behavior is simply that element of human quantativeness we call emotion. It was this element of our thinking that led us down the path to religion in our ongoing evolution as our response to what we perceived as unanswerable, as mystery. While science and ongoing research have not provided us with all the answers to our queries about "everything" it has made it possible for us to realize that there are answers to our questions, answers that will come, in time, with ongoing research and which do not need the embellishment of myth and superstition that constitutes religion as we have developed it. Answers which someday we will have but which we will only be able to use and profit from if we rid outselves of the restraints of myth and superstition.

howard a. doughty_1
2/14/2010 8:31:14 PM

As what my friend Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2008) said - or, more accurately, as my NEW YORK friend Kurt Vonnegut WAS FOND OF SAYING - or at least as I roughly remember it: "God is unknowable and therefore unservable; the needs of humanity are well known. Our only duty is to serve our species and to serve the Earth." In my declining years (I'll be an official senior citizen in about eight months), I find that my need for a spiritual awakening is not bolstered by my awareness of impending demise. At the age of about sixteen, I read the "Myth of Sisyphus." by Albert Camus (1913-1960). He showed nicely how it was possible to plunge headlong and happily into an atheistic universe, to remain composed and lucid and to maintain a sense of ethics in the bargain. It took a few years to drop any religious pretenses altogether. I'll go some way with my old mentor, Gregory Bateson (1904-1980), and acknowledge a complex and even an aesthetic universe ... but "spirituality" ... implausible if not utterly meaningless.

2/10/2010 1:51:36 AM

Like everyone else, I am also confused. After reading the copy here and the link the only conclusion that I have come to is that if it interests you--buy the book. A very poor editing job on the part of Utne to pick an exerpt that confuses rather than illuminates.

2/8/2010 6:26:52 PM

I am also confused as to what Paula Huston is trying to say. Christianity and spirituality are not necessarily the same thing, although they are not mutually exclusive either. Christianity implies organized religion and in my experience, many people on a spiritual path do not embrace organized religion. God or Goddess, whether understood in a spiritual way or a religious way is perceived in as many ways as there are individuals. One person's Christian awakening may be another's spiritual awakening on a different plane. Personally, to recognize one's connection to all living things, including the planet, and feeling the grace of and gratitude for existence, is as spiritual an awakening as I've ever had.

2/8/2010 1:57:17 PM

You can read the whole article by clicking the link on the first line. I read it, and was underwhelmed. I don't believe in "epiphanies" like this, even if the poor woman's husband did, and was influenced. Why this religion? Why this god? Personal experience story only. "We can all be deluded" as the writer herself says.

chad henry
2/8/2010 12:28:56 PM

Hi, I wasn't at all clear what the writer was getting at in this excerpt. Did her spiritual awakening include her conversion to Catholocism, and did she then embrace the idea of a spiritual realm? From another source, I was impressed to read of Lilias Folan's spiritual awakening--she felt driven to abandon husband and family life to retreat to a monastic life, but her spiritual advisor told her that her mission involved staying with family and taking her yoga teaching to the public--a difficult choice for her. Lilias is one of the few truly spiritual people that I know of in the American yoga scene.

luccia rogers
2/8/2010 12:14:19 PM

Even though the DSM-IV included a new section covering "Spiritual Awakening" or "Spiritual Emergence," events, people in the throes of them are still diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, bi-polar mania, "garden variety," depression, and so on. A medical and scientific culture that leaps at any "proof" that spirituality is a mental disorder or brain malfunction while rolling its collective eyes at those who embrace even the possibility that there is more to this life than what can currently be probed and prodded will not easily accept that a person can indeed have an experience grounded in their spirituality and outside their understanding. Just 20 years ago, people talking about the energy field produced by the human body were laughed at. Then, sensing technology became sensitive enough to discern that the human body produces a measurable field of bio-electric energy. Menopause is a profound shift in a woman's life. Treating it as a disorder ignores the powerful change it represents. Ms Huston is to be complimented and honored for speaking up and sharing her experience of a common, yet amazing event that remains shrouded in shame.

dee josephson
2/8/2010 12:09:16 PM

This makes little sense to me. Was the writer's conversion to Catholicism not a spiritual awakening? In this snippet on the subject, there is nothing written to inform me of what the writer is experiencing or of what she feels is likely to come. I do believe that religion and spiritualism are two different things--I can believe in something, some force, bigger than human without prescribing my life activities and rituals to it--but can someone who has already committed to a religion do the reverse?

dee josephson
2/8/2010 12:08:57 PM

This makes little sense to me. Was the writer's conversion to Catholicism not a spiritual awakening? In this snippet on the subject, there is nothing written to inform me of what the writer is experiencing or of what she feels is likely to come. I do believe that religion and spiritualism are two different things--I can believe in something, some force, bigger than human without prescribing my life activitites and rituals to it--but can someone who has already committed to a religion do the reverse?