This week was an interesting one. First, I was able to participate in the start of Lent. Second, I attended an orientation session for a charity I will volunteer with.
I participated in Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) and have decided to give up alcohol for the duration of Lent. My Catholic month ends before Lent does, but I like the idea of giving up booze and Lent is a nice reason to do it.
I already had occasion to use Lent as my reason to not drink at a recent happy hour. Though I still wanted to drink, it was much easier to resist pressure to drink when I gave a religious reason. I even had a good conversation with a Jewish friend of mine about this project as a result of my long-winded explanation of why I was participating in Lent when I’m not Catholic.
Bonus benefit: happy hour is much cheaper when you stick to diet coke.
Due to the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, I felt incredibly guilty when reflecting on how I ignored a homeless man a few weeks ago. To alleviate myself of this guilt, I volunteered for Miriam’s Kitchen, an organization dedicated to ending chronic homelessness in Washington, DC.
I only attended the orientation session so far, but I came away energized and enthusiastic about the opportunity.
The Path of Exploration
James Martin describes six “typical” paths or quests for God, one of which is “The Path of Exploration,” the path I most closely relate to.
Exploration comes naturally in American faith as well. Turned off by their childhood faith, or by the failings of organized religion, and lacking extensive religious training, many Americans searching for a religion that “fits” embark on a quest—itself a spiritual metaphor.
I’ve never been religious. When I lived in Korea as a kid, I attended a Christian elementary school. After my family left Korea, I abandoned religion altogether. It just didn’t make sense to me.
I’m not using this project as a way to find a particular religion to believe in or “settle” into. I really just want to reap the benefits of the exploration and practice of ancient wisdom.
However, I’m open to the possibility of finding one that particularly suits me.
Martin describes a few potential downsides to this path.
First, you may not settle on any particular religion because it’s not perfect or it doesn’t suit you, as if God existed solely to satisfy your most trivial and superficial needs.
An even greater danger for explorers is not settling on any one religious tradition because it doesn’t suit them: God may become someone who is supposed to satisfy their needs. God becomes what one writer called a “pocket-size God,” small enough to put in your pocket when God doesn’t suit you (for example, when the Scriptures say things that you would “rather not hear) and take out of your pocket only when convenient.
I’m not worried about not settling since that is not the intent of this project, but I do worry about only following the “easy” parts of religion, the parts that confirm my existing wants and desires. For example, with Catholic month, it’s easy to only follow the parts of Christianity that say God wants only the best for us because he loves us. It’s comforting.
Because I’m only dabbling, I might ignore the parts that require us to do what is seemingly unpleasant or difficult. Because I’m exploring multiple religions, I can ignore the part of Christianity that says, “love your enemy” and wait it out until I move on to the next religion or philosophy.
The second danger is lack of commitment.
Your entire life may become one of exploration—constant sampling, spiritual grazing. And when the path becomes the goal, rather than God, people may ultimately find themselves unfulfilled, confused, lost, and maybe even a little sad.
It’s possible that I could become addicted to these 30-day experiments and continue them indefinitely. While not bad per se, I will likely miss out on the benefits that come from diving deeply into a particular philosophy or religion.
I have no idea where this project will lead me. Perhaps I will end up creating some weird new hybrid religion that combines daily ice baths with Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. I can call it “Dale-icism.”
If, at the end of my experiment, I graduate from my explorer status to something a little more permanent, it wouldn’t be a bad thing.