Linking the spiritual with the intellectual quest

In her post, “An epistemological mid-life crisis“, my master’s degree colleague, Donna Sparkes, expressed a feeling that probably anyone with both a brain and a sense of wonder grapples with at least once in their life: the spiritual crisis.  Here it is, in her words:

Over the past few years I have been going through a major personal challenge in my spiritual life as I’ve been questioning what it is I truly believe. I know I am not the first person to experience this, but I’m not concerned about the commonality of this experience; I’m just concerned about me. I have many questions, many doubts, more questions and more doubts, and I feel stuck. The thing with a question is that it opens the door to not knowing. Actually, not know is exactly where a question starts, and that leaves me feeling torn. I am homesick for the truth I once knew as I look for the truth I seek.

I especially like that last sentence – “I am homesick for the truth I once knew”. Certainty feels so great – so safe, comfortable, simple, and I left it behind, too. I spent my teens and early twenties as an evangelical Christian, and thought seriously about becoming a minister. Then I took an amazing course on “The Bible as Literature”, where we applied critical thinking to everything I held dear. At the same time, I started reading liberal biblical scholars, hung out with people who weren’t afraid to ask difficult questions, or to hear me ask them, and spent many hours in reflection.  Prayer, even.  It didn’t happen overnight, but 1987 was a watershed year for me where I gave myself permission to keep asking the questions.  One sunny summer afternoon, it came to me that “If God can’t handle me kicking at the tires of my faith like this, then it probably isn’t much of a faith, and my version of God is probably wrong.”

Thus started a search for spiritual bedrock that continues to this day. I don’t know anything spiritual for sure except that I still have my sense of wonder.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, I can’t shake the belief that maybe god is the energy that holds all things together, that love probably IS the answer (to what question?) and that purpose is a good thing to have.  

I believe these squishy, feel-good principles strongly enough that I want to explore how widely-dispersed religious communities use online media to communicate, learn from each other, and move forward in a spiritual community. Somehow, I plan to build a research topic around this, despite my own questions about the fundamentals of faith. If the spiritual quest is important to enough people (like me) that they continue to meet in person to get to the next level of their faith (whatever that may be), then what are they doing online?  Can a spiritual community transcend physical boundaries and find either truth or joy?  

This topic needs refining, and as the Quakers say when presented with a new idea, “it needs seasoning”… which usually means pulling it apart and putting it back together word by word, until everyone is satisfied or it falls apart. I’d appreciate the help of anyone who has gone on a spiritual quest which has involved looking at spiritual communities online for the answers.

A bit of applied research in our final days on campus

Which way should we go?It was Charmaine’s idea to get Bill and Lisa a gift. Very thoughtfully, she emailed the whole cohort for ideas… not realizing that Bill and Lisa were on the cohort list (sneaky of them!).  We had not even really decided on a present when Charmaine got a note back from Bill saying that he “couldn’t accept gifts from students”.  Was this the truth, or just a handy bit of “truthiness” created as a deflection?

About the same time, as we were discussing at my table what we might choose as a thank-you gift, John Dallas raised a similar point. “Do you think it might look like we are trying to buy their favour?  Maybe it’s a conflict of interest.”  Smart guy – that had never occurred to me.

What could we do?  Should we take Bill at his word and forgo any thank-you gift?  Should we go with our intuition (most of us are Ns, after all) and get something nice?  I decided to research the matter. I put together a quick question for an expert in the field of ethical process in post-secondary institutions, Colleen Hoppins.  I guess this would be a Delphi study of very limited scope and narrow focus.

My question was, “Our cohort would like to present Bill and Lisa with a gift tonight to show our appreciation.  Are they allowed to accept? Should we specify that it should in no way affect our marks? 😉 ” (Novak, C., personal communication, August 2, 2012)

She answered very quickly.  The feedback I received from my question was as follows:

Thanks, Catherine! 🙂

Yes, quite right, small gifts of appreciation when transparently given from the group as a token of appreciate [sic] are fine.

It was a pleasure to meet with the class and I so appreciated all the great questions and energy.

Best wishes.

Cheerio,
Colleen (Hoppins, C., personal communication, August 2, 2012)

I had the answer within 30 minutes, proving that it needn’t take long to design a question, nor does the research period need to be lengthy or the cost expensive.  It’s not Master’s level in scope, but my conscience was clear as I went to Purdy’s for two boxes of assorted chocolates.

I hope you enjoyed them, Bill and Lisa!

I believe everything I hear

I heard this on the CBC so it must be true…

An intrepid commuter decided to combine thrift and exercise, and started cycling to work along the highway.

“Big whoop,” I thought as I listened, “people commute by bicycle all the time here, and on the highway too.” But it turns out that this cycle trip was in Ontario, and on the 401 from Ajax to Mississauga.

Peter Oldring, the host, went on the morning cycle trip – complete with honking cars, 3-lane merges, hitching onto the back of trucks, and being pulled over for a ticket. The commuter pocketed the slip of paper without batting an eyelid (I assume… this was radio). He’s received about 75 so far.

Why does he do it? Because he can! He’s in great shape, and is breaking new trails.

This is ThatMore awesome stuff from This Is That includes the Pay Per Use Parks program, Canadian kids who practice mixed martial arts, and why a protest group from Saltspring Island wants the Calgary Stampede to change its name.