This is Part 2 of 2! Click here for Part 1!
In these posts we’re looking at the question:
What does it look like to stay open to different perspectives on the Divine, respectfully appreciating the gamut of wisdom?
In other words, how do we navigate having an eclectic spirituality?
In Part 1, we examined some of the deep wisdom of the scientific and Buddhist perspectives. Now let’s jump into Islamic spirituality and the infinitely diverse category of Nature-based, ancestral spiritualities (yes, we will address cultural appropriation here!)…
In another set of posts, we explore the helpful structure that the Five Pillars of Islam can provide for our spirituality. But beyond this, how can the Islamic perspective on the Divine inform our own?
Whereas science and Buddhism are dubious of the existence of a Creator of reality, and many ancestral spiritualities focus on the wild diversity and immanence of a creative Spirit, Islam affirms the existence of the singular and all-encompassing Allah. The central principles of of Islamic theology are Tawhid and tanzih, which, respectively, affirm the absolute oneness and transcendence of God. Allah is whole unto Allah’s-self, perfect in every way, beyond comparison or imagining or labels (like gender), and beyond the limitations of time and our universe.
This is a perspective of such beautiful truth! What else could have created our unimaginably vast universe? How could anyone truly claim to understand, even in part, such an even-more-unimaginable Being? How could anyone justify worship of comparatively meaningless idols like money, status, and their own ego? In the face of such majesty, it’s no wonder Muslims feel the need to ascribe ninety-nine names to God in addition to “Allah.” This must be Someone of infinite power and consciousness to give us our very existence.
But not only that – this Someone loves us too! That’s the whole reason for creating us in the first place! To think we’ve received such a personal, wonderful gift as our own precious, little life from such a mighty Being… it’s just overwhelmingly lovely. And it doesn’t make sense to do anything other than offer surrender, awe, gratitude, and love in return.
Are Tawhid and tanzih the full beautiful truth? Each of us can decide that for ourselves, and as you’ll see in this Articles of Faith series, I have my own thoughts. But no matter what, in our eclectic spirituality, we can join Muslims in saying, “Allahu akbar! Alhamdulillah! God is greatest! Praise be to God!”
How can ancestral perspectives on the Divine inform our own? Usually influenced by some combination of American Indian traditions, Pagan European traditions, and the New Age movement, more and more people are keen to incorporate some type or practices of Nature-based, ancestral spirituality into their lives. In some ways that means our culture is coming full-circle: at one point in history, each person’s spirituality was intimately connected with the Natural environment of their homeland and the lifeways of their ancestors.
It is one of our greatest human injustices and tragedies that, over time, the people who’d lost this intimacy went on to violently assimilate people who hadn’t. Western Europeans and their descendants took this to the extreme, shaping in large part the global society we know today: a civilization that, despite growing by the billions each decade, is more homogenized than ever, with most of us more spiritually-alienated – from Nature, traditional lifeways, and the Divine itself – than even our most-alienated ancient ancestor.
In this assimilation process, the lives, traditions, and homelands of countless spiritually-attuned people have been destroyed. But despite these odds, countless more have resisted and survived. Now many of these ancestrally-connected communities are in a grand reclamation process, actively securing bright new futures for themselves, their spiritualities, and the planet. Thus they are providing one of humanity’s greatest causes for hope and inspiration.
And it’s not just their visionary activism that excites the rest of us ancestrally-disconnected people – their spiritualities excite us too! Even the staunchest skeptic among us can be deeply moved when they learn about communal practices like harmony with Nature, rites of passage, eldering, and storytelling. And many more of us find beautiful truth in pantheistic and animistic ancestral worldviews: the Divine is indeed very near at all times, and is multifariously manifest in our Sacred world. But how is it that we ancestrally-disconnected people are able to comprehend these beautiful truths and practices? Why do we feel such attraction to these spiritualities?
I believe the deepest reason is that they remind us that part of our own Souls – despite centuries of alienation – remembers what it’s like to be intimate with Nature and our ancestors. After all, given how many millennia our forebears lived in this way, it’s quite possible we’re genetically disposed to recognize our kinship to it. Additionally, we’ve seen the destruction that modern, ancestrally-disconnected civilization is capable of spinning into. Given this, we feel compelled to return to our own roots, roots we’ve somehow been carrying in us this whole time. We want to – and need to – engage in our own grand reclamation process.
This need is all well and good in itself, but it can go in an unhealthy direction. We might see the practices of ancestrally-connected people around us, but we don’t know our own ancestral versions of them, so we just copy what we see without permission. This is not OK, and we need to avoid this temptation. The rules that apply to world religions like Islam and Buddhism – which are explicitly designed to be adhered to or interpreted by anyone, no matter their ethnicity – do not apply to ancestral spiritualities – which are explicitly designed to be adhered to or interpreted only by people sharing their founders’ ethnicity.
Just because the awareness of an ancestral spirituality might be widespread does not somehow convert it into a world religion. That only happens when sanctioned members and governing bodies decide that it is so. It is disrespectful to circumvent that process; to assume “what’s yours is mine” is called cultural appropriation, and it risks replicating the same destructive pattern of assimilation above. Even if it doesn’t seem like we’re hurting someone, we are offending those whom a given practice is meant to honor: Nature and all ancestors involved, including our own. All of these will forgive us if we apologize and alter our conduct.
All this said, our Soul-need for ancestral connection will likely only continue growing, and that in itself is good. So what is the respectful thing to do?
The first thing to do is learn about and support (including financially) the reclamation work of ancestrally-connected people, their activism and education efforts to preserve Nature and ancestral lifeways. To find the names of ancestrally-connected peoples near you, I recommend this map. Spend some time navigating your local area and searching online for further information.
In addition, here are places we can learn about lifeways that are ethical for us to practice:
We can start by remembering that we can infuse simple Sacredness into any ordinary moment of life. No matter your spiritual tradition, anyone can engage in these universally-accessible spiritual practices, which do include harmony with Nature, rites of passage, eldering, storytelling, and many more. These have been proven to be shared by nearly every spiritual tradition.
We can learn about the spirituality of our own ancestors as far back as we can see. Anthropologists and other scholars are collecting more information all the time to reconstruct a picture of ancient spiritualities. We can be part of this process! For my own part, this is a big reason why I’m involved with the Celtic Center and AODA, and it’s what I address in upcoming posts on Celtic Spirituality.
We can learn about leaders and aspects of world religions that have demonstrated connection to Nature and ancestors. Scholars have a lot to say about their practices too, and there are many more examples here than we typically assume! For further reading I highly recommend this article on spiritual activism, plus the work of Mirabai Starr, Belden Lane, and Bill Plotkin.
Rather than us participating in their traditions, this is what ancestrally-connected people are asking from us: to be more and truly ancestrally-connected ourselves!
In order to help repair the legacy of violent assimilation, we need to reclaim our own intimacy with Nature and our forebears. Remember: spiritual disconnection preceded the initial destruction. Spiritual reconnection will have to precede re-creation. Every spirituality we recover brings humanity closer to the possibility of ecological and social wholeness. Let’s each specialize in recovering the ones we’re uniquely responsible for.
FINDING OUR WAY BACK TO HOME AND CENTER
Now that we’ve exemplified venturing down four of the many spiritual paths, let’s return an essential question: How do we hold a center in all of this, so that we’re not endlessly touring through various ideas? How do we find our spiritual home?
When it comes to finding your own center, I recommend starting with Simple Structure for your Spirituality. For an example of how I find my center:
Stay tuned for my upcoming post on Mystic Spirituality!
I find the Mystic Tradition is a perfect place to start – it’s a home that can accommodate just about everything, while also providing a firm foundation for our lives. This is part of my Articles of Faith series, where I explore the three main pillars of my own eclectic spirituality: Mystic Spirituality, Celtic Spirituality, and Christian Spirituality.
In the meantime I offer some reflection questions:
How have you been practicing surrender, awe, gratitude, and love?
How have you been integrating Islamic perspective into your spirituality?
How have you been contemplating the transcendent?
How have you been finding hope and inspiration in the reclamation work of ancestrally-connected people?
How have you been remembering what it’s like to encounter Nature?
How have you been integrating simple Sacredness, the spirituality of your own ancestors, and the ancestral wisdom of world religions?
Image credits: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9 - Devin Bard