Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What Spiritual Journeys Have in Common

 All spiritual journeys, especially those involving religious institutions, have something in common. There is the deference to authority, the struggle to behave in a "holy" manner, the self-deprecation. Currently, I'm reading AN UNQUENCHABLE THIRST: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life, by Mary Johnson, who lived for twenty years as a nun with the Sisters of Charity, Mother Teresa's organization.

When I myself was young, I lived in a Buddhist temple in Japan, of a sect called Jodo Shin, or Pure Land.  I have been planning to write a memoir about my experiences for a long time and thought that seeing how someone else dealt with her struggles in a religious institution would give me ideas about how to organize my material.  But it has done much more than that. I thought I had a hard time, but I didn't have to use a switch or chains on my body!  It sounds so like the middle ages that it's hard to believe such things were being done in the twentieth century by an organization whose founder received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Reading this book as someone who is not only not a Catholic but not even a Christian, I see that only faith in a set of beliefs that was all-encompassing could have sustained Johnson for twenty years. She believed she had been called by God and that she was doing God's will; and she believed that no matter how much difficulty was put in her way, it was God's way of showing His love by asking for more from her. She believed it -- and she was taught it daily.

The hard part about living in a religious community is the constant admonition to be done with ego -- and all of its constituents such as pride, envy, etc. One is not to enjoy anything too much -- except maybe praying. When I consider the psychology behind this, it basically is, Don't trust yourself. 

I don't usually talk about books until I have finished them, but this is a long one, and I'm sure there will be a lot more to say before I am done.

Note:  My review of this book has just been published on the RAIN TAXI site: