Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Spiritual Freedom

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco
As Semester At Sea celebrates Founder’s Day this week, I remain grateful for my first experience with the program in February of 1999. Thirteen years later, I’ve seen the world, but it’s my world that has changed. There are countless ways that I’ve grown, but one in particular has been achieving a more authentic and free spiritual life.

Growing up I spent many, many, many hours in church and had a love-hate relationship with our family’s level of commitment. I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of community and I needed to believe in something greater than what my life had to offer at the time. On the other hand, in addition to questioning the relevancy and purpose of the many hours I attended, I started to question how we were applying the teachings of love. We loved people through certain challenges, ignored others, and condemned the rest. The more I traveled, the more I rejected that framework, along with a few other inconsistencies.

It is impossible to travel internationally and not feel your foundation shake. Being in Morocco during calls to prayer, listening to Archbishop Desmond Tutu deliver a compelling address in South Africa, and seeing the emotional impact of a belief system in India taught me more about spirituality than all of my years in buildings on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. Standing on the back deck of a ship and seeing nothing but the sun reflecting off of a seemingly endless ocean swaddled me in peace. Having a conversation with someone I’d been taught would spend an afterlife in an undesired place illustrated another possible ending to the story. If I could treasure a religious practice different than my own, be inspired by teachings that drastically differed from what I'd heard year after year, feel tangible peace on the back of a ship, and sense inner contentment radiating from those practicing beliefs I was taught to fear then I had to question everything and that was unnerving. How could I interrogate my foundation? Did I have the courage to walk this through? What if everything I knew was untrue?

What I learned is that tradition is not synonymous with spirituality. True spirituality comes from within. Following protocol and engaging in busyness by way of services and revivals to avoid life is not healthy nor a reputable sign of growth. True spirituality comes from an authentic desire to connect. I saw and felt a genuine desire for spiritual contentment in the lives of many people, in many countries, in different ways. None were inferior nor forged. How did my spiritual life change? I learned the invaluable lesson that my spiritual connection was not dependent on a physical location or someone’s else standard’s. It was only after I freed myself from performing traditional behaviors and expectations that I could engage in seeking truth and peace and be a living example of love.

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