My DVD collection would not be complete without my seasons of LOST. The story that portrays dozens of plane crash survivors tries to survive through famine, captivity, and terror attacks explores the contrast between good and evil. LOST portrays the definition of a spiritual journey. The show’s intricate plot line and thought-provoking twists make it one of the better-produced shows of the past decade. While the show’s top level question is “How far are you willing to go to survive?”, the underlying proposition given to the audience by J.J. Abrams and his team is unequivocally “Can there be multiple roads for someone’s spiritual journey?”
The shows producers answer to that question, along with 65% of Christians, is a resounding, “Yes, there are multiple ways to participate in spirituality.” This answer, however, defines a significant problem faced by our society: our definition of spirituality.
Even though LOST has been off of the air for about 5 years now, the producer’s notion of spirituality is very much a mirror of the concept of spirituality adopted by much of American society. Spirituality is something that everyone participates in, regardless of his or her recognition of it. The problem with spirituality in our society, however, is that we would much rather follow LOST’s model of spirituality as a journey and not spirituality as a union. The differences between these two views of spirituality have many implications that determine not only the spirituality of the individual, but also how the individual’s actions flow from that spirituality.
For one to have their definition of spirituality as something experienced through a journey, then their ambitions and decisions will be geared towards the immediate. Preoccupations with the welfare, indulgence, and preservation of the self will take over as the chief factors one considers when making decisions. Anything infringing on the individual will inevitably infringe upon his or her spiritual journey, thus turning man into someone focused on surviving life rather than living the life required of them.
This holds true to all “roads” of spiritual journeys. If spirituality is seen as a journey that will be largely predicated on the individual’s immediate decisions and survival, then it is also plausible that these “journeys” will be subject to outside influences. For example, if one’s view of a spiritual journey was simply trying to live a life that is simply “successful,” then would it not be appropriate to consider that American culture will have a large impact on that narrative? To put it simply, man’s spirituality influences so many of his actions, that it cannot be safe to assume that his spirituality can be defined solely by his own mind and experiences.
In determining how to explain spirituality, our culture has moved away from reason and logic as the chief explainers of spirituality and has transitioned to the use of materials and stories. For example, TIME Magazine ran a piece in 2013 indicating that people generally believe they are going to live in eternity as long as their bank account is full. According to this narrative, the path to eternity has a routing number and dollar amount. This byproduct of post-modernity would make giants like Francis Schaefer roll in their graves.
This transition to stories as defining spirituality is something that can benefit Christianity, however, if churches choose to seize the opportunity. The way churches can tell their story is not through explaining spirituality through the story of a journey, but through the story of a union. Man as a spiritual being is built not necessarily to grow through a journey, but through diving deeper into a union of mystery and wonder, specifically in the union of the Trinity.
The chief difference between a journey and a union in spiritual terms is how the end goal is defined. Of course, a participatory union is an experience that can also be considered, to a degree, a “journey.” But the point of that spiritual interaction is not one of wandering with little direction towards a goal that is barely defined. Spirituality as a union is a two-way embrace between God and Man, a transcendent experience filled with contemplation, participation, and awe of mystery. As Robert E. Webber has noted, this journey is a journey inward towards God, not outward towards us. Spirituality in this framework finds expression in a life intentionally lived through participation in the union of The Trinity and with our fellow creatures in mind.
If you believe, like I do, that the majority of our problems as a nation are the result of a spiritual sickness, then perhaps it is best to re-orient our ideas about spirituality before we attempt to re-orient anything else. If we want to find our way to redemption, we must first cease to be lost.