Kenneth W. James, The Church of the Spirit, Chicago IL
June 22, 2008
I would strongly suspect that each of you has at one time experienced questioning from a friend or associate about just what Spiritualism is. I have had to explain how Spirituality is not exactly the same as Spiritualism several times to different groups who are interested in just what we do here at The Church of The Spirit, and at other Spiritualist churches around the country. I am always uncomfortable when I explain the “difference” between Spiritualism and Spirituality, because for those of us who embrace the religion, science and philosophy of Spiritualism, these two things are not necessarily distinct.
Spirituality, as it is used today, refers to the recognition and cultivation of those aspects of human experience that are considered not strictly of the material realm—the realm of sensory phenomena that occur as transformations of matter in space/time. The growing interest in so-called New Age thought, the reconnection with various bodies of spiritual writings including non-Western religious traditions, the more esoteric aspects of Western religious traditions, and the rise in interest in earth-based systems of religion all indicate that humanity in the twenty-first century is hungry for something beyond the material reality that can be discerned by our sense organs. Some scholars use the term “mysticism” as a synonym for spirituality; mysticism has been defined as a direct experience of the Divine. Since the term “mysticism” usually connotes a one-god, monotheistic perspective, I will use the term spirituality instead of mysticism to refer to this connection with a “distinctly-other” dimension of experience that may or may not refer to a single divine presence.
The three dominant religious traditions of the West at this time, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all have spiritual components to them. In Jewish circles, the spiritual quest is mapped by the texts and traditions of the Kabbalah. In Christianity, the writings of particular saints who are labeled “mystics” form the corpus of spirituality. In Islam, the Sufi tradition covers the dimension of the deeply spiritual. Clearly there is a problem with talking about spirituality within these great traditions. Each tradition, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, purport to express the complete revelation of God in God’s relation to humanity; as such they are by definition spiritual expressions. However, in each tradition, the perhaps originally spiritual presentation of God became codified into practices and teachings (called in Christianity “ritual” and “dogma”) that gradually separate from their spiritual roots. Ernest Scott in his book People of the Secret and Idries Shah in his book The Sufis both discuss this gradual separation of the spiritual from the literal expression of religious tradition. So, over time, some practitioners of these great religions sense this separation as a loss of connection with the spiritual, and move to recover that connection, through Kabbalah, Christian Mysticism, and Sufism.
The pull toward spirituality seems to be like a soul-hunger felt by certain people at different times in their lives. Others may not ever be aware of this pull toward spirituality. Yet, wherever someone exhibits passion in regard to some earthly phenomenon, be it God, nature, Wall Street or the Cubs and the Sox, the seeds of spirituality may be found. The spiritual impulse is part of the human condition; no culture or society has ever been found that does not have an expression of the spiritual, although the specific content of that expression may seem anything but spiritual to others. So spirituality is the pull toward “something more”, as a response to the emptiness expressed in Peggy Lee’s haunting song, “Is That All There Is?”.
Spirituality may be considered a necessary but not sufficient condition for embracing the science, philosophy and religion of Spiritualism. If the Fox sisters and their kin were strict materialists, with no spiritual core at all, I’m sure they would have found explanations for the raps they heard by studying the physics of aging wood walls and the effect of moisture on housing structures. But because their fundamental disposition included the possibility of the spiritual, they began to formulate what has come to be considered the beginnings of Modern American Spiritualism.
For spirituality to become Spiritualism, there must be an appreciation of the particular combination of spirit and personality as we understand it in the human being. I am not just an accidentally conscious carbon-based life form (although I am that as well); I am also a being who unfolds in space and time with a particular identity and who forms particular relationships with other beings, places and things on the earth plane. Spiritualism places a great value on these specific, particular aspects of the human being. Who I become in this life is intimately tied to the particularities of my experience, the specific people, places and things I encounter as I grow and develop, and the connections I establish while I am here on the earth plane. Spiritualism recognizes that these specifics of my identity cohere in a way that survives what is considered death: I may leave the earth plane, but the structure of my particular being remains intact after this change. Moreover, I retain the capacity to interact with beings on the earth plane in several ways: directly (although most human beings neither notice nor fully value the sense that the so-called dead are contacting them), through mediums, and through the action of healers who channel the energy of Spirit.
The history of Spiritualism recognizes and chronicles the various ways to verify or demonstrate that the continuity of our personality persists after the change called death. While in the United States, we call communications from mediums “messages,” in England and elsewhere these mediumistic messages are called “demonstrations,” indicating that when we receive a message, the continuity of the human person after the change called death is being proven. That’s one reason why some of the messages we hear given to others at our services or in a séance may not make much sense to anyone but the person receiving the message. The message communicates something more than the words may indicate: the message communicates that our loved one continues whole and intact even though not on the earth plane.
The specifics of Spiritualism expressed in our Principles show that Spiritualism participates in the Spiritual, but also forms a specific tradition that sets it apart from the general impulse toward Spirit that is inherent in human experience. For some of us, probably for everyone here today, events work together to go beyond simply acknowledging that there is a “something more” to our experience than is covered in materialist perspectives on life. For some of us, probably for everyone here today, there is an experience that can only be explained as the presence of a loved one who has gone through the change called death, but who has returned to communicate in some manner with us. Acknowledging that experience and exploring what it means is the fundamental attitude of Spiritualism. We explore, test, investigate, prove and express what we find to others. If they accept spirituality, they may come to embrace Spiritualism. Spiritualism brings new vitality to every form of spirituality. And I believe that Spiritualism can bring harmony among various religious traditions that, at present, battle with one another for the supremacy of Truth. As Madame Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, has stated, “There is no religion higher than Truth!” As Spiritualists, we affirm that this Truth is expressed in the maxim, “There is no death, and there are no dead.” Our teachings, our services, our séances and our writings all develop this truth, enhancing Spiritualism and enriching spirituality.