Would You Recognize a Spiritual Awakening?

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

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.

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