Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Keep It Simple Seeker

In business, there is an oft-repeated admonition for the successful design and actualization of new products: “Keep it simple, stupid” (KISS).  It recognizes that success comes from clarity about what you are trying to ultimately accomplish, and then remaining fully true in fulfilling that core intention.  The arch-enemy is the near-inevitable human desire to overreach, over-ornament, and over-complicate that original intention.

KISS is also relevant to our spiritual pursuit.  Our Great Teachers – Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad – by their words and their lives, have told and shown us that real spirituality is to be found in simplicity and humility.  Yet religious systems always become anything but simple.  Almost inevitably, glorification and complexity rear their heads.  The great cathedrals of Europe, the splendid mosques of the Middle East and the Taj Mahal in India, the grand palaces and monasteries of Tibet, are intended to overwhelm the puny individual by their physical and visual display of Power – ostensibly the power of Spirit, but more often, the power of the church.

Inside these great halls are found the exquisite artifacts – the iconic religious symbols that reference the personas, the history, and the tenets of the religion.  All layered with great beauty intended to enhance the value and meaning of the object, as if the inherent meaning is not enough to stand on its own.  (Jesus’ simple wooden cup at the Last Supper subsequently became a gold and bejeweled chalice used for religious ritual.)

We do the same with our spiritual teachings and dogma.  We take the earliest, simple teachings and mash them into highly complex discussions of theology, interpretation, and etymologies of words derived across translated languages.  Yet it is in those earliest beginning teachings that the real messages can be found, not in the complex renderings of “interpretations and explanations” that we have layered on ever since.  God is an experience of the individual spirit, not a logic lesson for the human mind.

The tendency to overreach and to glorify is understandable, especially as one seeks to express such an inexpressible spiritual feeling living in one’s soul.  The success yearnings of the clergyperson, combined with the creative capacity of a fine artist, can be a powerful temptation.  But as beautiful, expressive and inspirational as these temples and artifacts can be to our senses, we must ask ourselves: is this what our Teachers taught us?  Is this grandness for the benefit of God, and for the spiritual encouragement of the congregant?  Or are they really testaments to Man, the grandeur of the Church itself, the power of the person in the pulpit?  How much energy has been expended for the brick rather than the Spirit?

We are certainly free to admire the output – architecture, art, and sophisticated theological argument – that comes from our human spiritual creativity.  We can appreciate the creative abilities and realization of potential exemplified in these outputs, and use them to encourage our own expression.  But these are human creations.  When we begin to think that our spirituality is dependent upon, or measured by, those human factors, or see them in place of appreciation for God’s simple treasures living all around us, we have lost sight of our true responsibility and connection to God.  When we build our faith on foundations of cash, and try to define our spirituality by the size of the congregation and the complex arguments of our theology, it is at the expense of the richness of our spirit.  We may impress ourselves and each other with our grand physical symbols.  But God will not be so impressed.  Spiritual honesty in a neighbor’s candlelit living room can be far more true than misdirected spiritual expression from the pulpit.

©  2014   Randy Bell                          www.OurSpiritualWay.blogspot.com

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