In his recent article “Think Spirituality Is Easy? Think Again…” Roger Gottlieb asks “Is there at the heart of spirituality a powerful, redemptive, and transformative idea?” He believes there is:
“… one that is simply expressed but often excruciatingly hard to put into practice. The idea is this: our lives will be far happier, in an enduring and deep way, and we will be a lot more fun to be around, if we seek to live by certain virtues. To the extent that we choose to be mindful, accepting, grateful, compassionate, and loving, our own contentment will grow and our interpersonal behavior will be increasingly caring, respectful, and just.”
He focuses on the single virtue of compassion in the context of the spiritual life:
“Compassion,”insists Catholic priest Gregory Bolye, who spent decades intervening in Los Angeles gang violence, “is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a covenant between equals.” Anglican Archbishop Rowan William’s suggests that this covenantal relationship requires a loving attention which allows other people to develop, choose freely, and come to a better, truer life by their own energies. The great temptation, says Williams, is seeking to have the last word, to control what the other says and how they live. This may be relatively easy if the person is an innocent victim. The more they are complicit in their suffering (an addict, say), or a victimizer rather than a victim, the more difficult it becomes.Thus, true compassion might well take a whole lifetime to get good at it, let alone master. And this is true for all the other spiritual virtues, which always require attention, energy, and a willingness to let go of old habits and attachments. Each day, every moment, I am invited to choose love over hate, gratitude over bitterness, confidence in my connection to people and the world over frightened isolation.
In this light, then, spirituality is not a relaxed or cheapened version of traditional faith, or an escape from social life, but a demanding and in some ways heightened version of both religion and social engagement.