In Search of the Spiritual
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In Search of the Spiritual
Father Thomas Keating, the abbot of St. Joseph’s Abbey, couldn’t help noticing the attraction that the exotic religious practices of the East held for many young Roman Catholics (Adler 1). He was a Trappist monk, so meditation was second nature, but he kept thinking there must be a precedent within the church for making such simple but powerful spiritual techniques available to laypeople. His Trappist brother Father William Meninger found it one day in 1974, in a dusty copy of a 14th century guide to contemplative meditation, “The Cloud of Unknowing” (Adler, 1). The two monks began teaching a form of Christian meditation that grew into the worldwide phenomenon known as centering prayer. Twice a day for twenty minutes, practitioners find a quiet place to sit with their eyes closed and surrender their minds to God (Adler, 1). In more than a dozen books and in speeches and retreats that have attracted tens of thousands, Keating has spread the word to a world of “hungry people, looking for a deeper relationship with God” (Adler, 1). There are many factors of religion that tie in to the article In Search of the Spiritual including socializing agents and culture, manifest and latent functions, and the profane and sacred. Socializing Agents and Culture
Increasingly, social scientists are recognizing the importance of both religion and government (“the state”) as agents of socialization, because of their impact on the life course (Schaefer 88). Traditionally, family members have served as the primary caregivers in our culture, but in the 20th century, the family’s protective function was steadily transferred to outside agencies such as hospitals, mental health clinics, and child care centers (Schaefer 88). Many of these agencies are run by groups affiliated with certain religions or by the state (Schaefer 88). Both organized religion and government have impacted the life course by reinstituting some of the rites of passage once observed in agricultural communities and early industrial societies. For example, religious organizations stipulate certain traditional rites that may bring together all the members of an extended family, even if they never meet for any other reason. And government regulations stipulate the ages at which a person may drive a car, drink alcohol, vote in elections, marry without parental permission, work overtime, and retire. These regulations do not constitute strict rites of passage: most 18-year-olds choose not to vote, and most other people choose their age of retirement without reference to government dictates (Schaefer 88, 89). Manifest and Latent Functions
Since religion is a cultural universal, it is not surprising that it plays a basic role in human societies. In sociological terms, it performs both manifest and latent functions. Among its manifest (open and stated) functions, religion defines the spiritual world and gives meaning to the divine (Schaefer 334). It provides an explanation for events that seem difficult to understand, such as what lies beyond the grave (Schaefer 334). The latent functions of religion are unintended, covert, or hidden (Schaefer 334). Even though the manifest function of a church service is to offer a forum for religious worship, it might at the same time fulfill a latent social function as a meeting ground for unmarried members (Schaefer 334). The great public manifestations of religiosity in America today – the mega churches seating 8,000 worshipers at one service, the emergence of evangelical preachers as political power brokers – haven’t been reflected in increased attendance at services (Adler 2). Of 1,004 respondents to the NEWSWEEK/Beliefnet.com poll, 45 percent said they attend worship services weekly, virtually identical to the figure (44 percent) in a Gallup poll cited by Time in 1966 (Adler 2). The fastest-growing category on surveys that ask people to give their religious affiliation, says Patricia O’Connell Killen of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, is “none”. But “spirituality,” the impulse to seek communion with the Divine, is thriving (Adler 2). The NEWSWEEK/Beliefnet.com poll found that more Americans, especially those younger than 60, described themselves as “spiritual” (79 percent) than “religious” (64 percent) (Adler 2). Almost two-thirds of Americans say they pray every day, and nearly a third meditate (Adler 2). Profane and Sacred
Emile Durkheim argued that religious faiths distinguish between certain transcending events and the everyday world. He referred to those realms as the sacred and the profane (Schaefer 331). The sacred encompasses elements beyond everyday life that inspire awe, respect, and even fear. People become a part of the sacred realm only by completing some ritual, such as prayer or sacrifice. Because believers have faith in the sacred, they accept what they cannot understand (Schaefer 331). In contrast, the profane includes the ordinary and commonplace. This concept can be confusing, however, because the same object can either be sacred or profane, depending on how it is viewed (Schaefer 331). A major poll, commissioned jointly with Beliefnet.com, reveals a breadth of tolerance and curiosity virtually across the religious spectrum (Adler 1). Everywhere we looked, a flowering of spirituality: in the hollering, swooning, foot-stomping services of the new wave of Pentecostals; in Catholic churches where worshippers pass the small hours of the night alone contemplating the eucharist, and among Jews who are seeking God in the mystical thickets of Kabbalah (Adler 1). Also, in the rebirth of Pagan religions that look for God in the wonders of the natural world; in Zen and innumerable other threads of Buddhism, whose followers seek enlightenment through meditation and prayer and in the efforts of American Muslims to achieve a more God-centered Islam (Adler 1). This shows how passionate people are about their religions. Religion is considered sacred to them; they spend their lives trying to reach the top to be accepted by the one they worship. Final Thoughts
Father Thomas Keating spread the word of God to a world of “hungry people, looking for a deeper relationship with God” (Adler 1). Religion plays a large part in socializing agents because it determines so many choices in a person’s lifestyle. Manifestations of religiosity in America today – the mega churches seating 8,000 worshipers at one service, the emergence of evangelical preachers as political power brokers – haven’t been reflected in increased attendance at services (Adler 2). It seems more people are considering themselves “spiritual” rather than “religious” and see prayer and meditation as their main rituals. Emile Durkheim referred to the realms of religious faith as sacred or profane. Each religion has their own preference of sacred or profane rituals depending on the importance of religion to them. I have always been more of a spiritual person rather than religious. Religion has never been a strong point for me, but I do believe in God and a higher power. This article really opened my eyes to how great religion can be and I hope that one day in the near future, I can allow more time in my life to discover which religion I would like to be a part of.