“Up, up, the long delirious burning blue I’ve topped the wind-swept height with easy grace wherenever lark or even eagle flew. And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod the high, untrespassed sanctity of space … put out my hand and touched the face of God.” – Jon Gillispie Magee Jr.
[Royal Canadian Air Force pilot who died in a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire, England in 1941.]
“The greatest sense in our body is our sense of touch. It is probably the chief sense in the process of sleeping and waking; it gives us our knowledge of depth or thickness and form; we feel, we love and hate, are touchy and are touched, through the touch corpuscles of our skin. J. Lionel Taylor, The Stages of Human Life.
Paraphrasing John Muir, there is enough beauty, wonder and mystery (reflexive spirituality) in this photo to fill cartloads of books. These lovers are facing east to greet the rising sun. The subtle touch of his hand on her arm just might represent the profound triumph over the gap that Michelangelo painted between the fingertips of Adam and God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The mystery of the gift of “touch” may indeed symbolize God’s contact with humanity. This concept is beautifully outlined in Brother Lawrence’s classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God.
Students of reflexive spirituality attempt to integrate knowledge and wisdom from scientists, theologians, naturalists, poets, prophets and sages. I recently discovered the attached web-link and shared the concept with Christie on our morning walk. Her interpretation was instant and to the point. “You mean like “no atheists in fox holes?” We both laughed.
“Well not exactly,” I said. “It’s more like trying to capture lightning in a bottle or defining the indefinable.” RS appears to be a creative option for seekers who have grown weary of material worship or who have not experienced a near-death epiphany.
It is not a new concept, nor one without potential peril.
700 years ago, Meister Eckhart, arguably the greatest Christian mystic/philosopher/theologian suggested:
This “God in creatures” is not pantheism, but is an expression of what in human terms is active contemplation, or the realization of the divine in all things as an “extension” of deep contemplation. Although Eckhart’s teachings are currently widely respected, the Catholic Church condemned him as a heretic. In a double irony, he allowed for scientific discoveries, but predicted that man’s “big questions” will not be answered by science.
Loren Eiseley clearly lived the Reflexive Spirituality life-style before the term was coined. He received the prestigious Pierre Lecomte du Noüy award, which is given to writers who describe the unifying themes of science and religion. However, he was rejected by many scientists for being “too religious” and by religious people for being too scientific.
Alfred Lord Wallace understood the concept when he argued that the evolution of humans could not be explained without a spiritual component. However, he was rejected as a spiritual kook, by Thomas Huxley (Darwin’s Bulldog) who used Darwin’s Theory to justify his “agnosticism” and suggest that WASPs were the most highly evolved race of humans.
However, his eminence, Charles Darwin, suggested that none of his discoveries necessarily contradicted the beliefs of a suitably enlightened religion.
In the 1970’s, Richard Bach wrote a delightful allegory involving reflexive spirituality. Instead of learning how to love more perfectly, Jonathan Livingston attempted to do what no seagull had ever done, perfect flying.
“Your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip,” Jonathan would say, other times, "is nothing more than your thought itself, in a form you can see. Break the chains of your thought, and you break the chains of your body, too.”
Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a wildly popular book that was both a spiritual primer and elixir for a society with a waning hunger for spiritual awareness. That decline has been accelerated with the increase of electronic devices.
While people generally agree that spiritual curiosity and awareness are vitally important to human health and wellbeing, it is more than likely that US students will attend Kindergarten through Grad-school without being introduced to the concept. Reflexive spirituality does not require believing in a Supreme Being and according to Abraham Maslow, classes or lessons in public schools need not violate the constitutional laws separating Church and State. The goals are universal and encourage people to celebrate the mystery, wonder and miracles of Mother Nature. With average weekly church attendance in the US declining to about 20%, reflexive spirituality may offer seekers a modern alternative pathway of discovering physical, mental and spiritual harmony.