Rambling and Disjointed in the Spirit

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Thursday in the week of Proper 19, Year 1 (Pentecost 16, 2015)

1 Corinthians 2:14 ~ Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are discerned spiritually.

Wait a minute, Paul, aren’t you setting up a Catch-22 here? I remember as a young adult seeking a job being told that I could not be hired because I had no experience, but I couldn’t get experience if I wasn’t hired. Now, Paul, you’re telling us that we can’t be spiritual unless we’re already spiritual; isn’t that what you’re saying?

A few years ago several of the parishes in my diocese took part in a program which envisioned a congregation as a barrel made up of many staves. The “staves” were characteristics possessed by the church and its programs: inviting small groups, exciting worship, visionary leadership, vibrant spirituality, and so forth. The premise was that a congregation could grow only to the extent allowed by shortest stave and there was a diagnostic process for determining the parish’s shortest stave. Nearly every Episcopal congregation tested came up with the same short stave: vibrant spirituality. Why? I suggested that the issue was not in the congregations but in the testing instrument. The language of the survey was that of European evangelicalism (the program was designed by a German engineer turned church leader), a language not “spoken” by North American Anglicans. It wasn’t that Episcopalians weren’t spiritual; rather, the problem was that they didn’t describe their spirituality in a way compatible with the testing instrument.

That program was undertaken at about the same time that the studiers of religious phenomena began to hear (and publicize and thus encourage) the phrase “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR). Perhaps Paul’s phrase “those who are unspiritual” is his way of referring to the non-religious; it may be, because I don’t think Paul would even consider separating “spiritual” from “religious” in the way that is done today. I’m fairly certain that, for Paul, religion and spirituality are the same thing.

But they are not to modern Americans. A member of my extended family once told me that she had “no spiritual impulse.” This same family member then was asked to read a lesson another family member’s funeral and, when she did, it was quite clear that she was, in fact, deeply spiritual; she was not, however, religious. I know plenty of people like my family member, people who are not religious (in the sense that they belong to no particular church or faith community). However, I have begun to wonder if there is anyone who is not spiritual in some way. Is there any human being who does not have a spirituality? Is there, in a word, anyone who is “unspiritual” (whatever Paul may have meant by that word)?

My sense is (and I know of no way to test this) is that there is not. Everyone, I think, has a spirituality of some sort. It may not be a religious spirituality; it may not even be recognized (by that person, such as my family member) as a spirituality. However, if as we religious people believe, every human has a spirit, then every person must have a spirituality. There are no “unspiritual” people and, thus, no Catch-22 in Paul’s formulation. But, then, what is Paul saying? Is he limiting the gifts of the Spirit to the religious? If so, I think he’s wrong. Jesus didn’t limit his gifts to the religious (in fact, he didn’t seem to like the religious all that much). So I don’t believe the Spirit will (or does) either.

I know this is sort of rambling and disjointed. That’s my spiritual gift for today, to be rambling and disjointed in the Spirit!