It almost goes without saying that spirituality is a process. It is not a destination at which we arrive but rather a journey we undertake.
We undertake our human journey along with other creatures who are likewise journeying: hills and rivers, plants and animals, trees and stars. Spirituality is a communal process. The universe is not a mere assemblage of matter in motion, it is spiritual adventure. All creatures have an inside as well as an outside, an inner life as well as an outer life, a subjective side as well as an objective side. Dead matter is an illusion. Everything has its own kind of inner aliveness.
The slideshow above presents one version of a "process spirituality" with aliveness at its center. The slideshow is not meant to be definitive; but it is meant to be suggestive, inspiring, and relevant to people from many walks of life, religious and non-religious. And also to people of many ages: the very young, the very old, and all in-between.
Our version of process spirituality is inspired by the spiritual alphabet of Spirituality and Practice, which is one of the world's leading interfaith organizations; and by the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead's idea that the aim of each and every moment of experience is satisfying intensity imbued with harmony. The thirty-seven letters of the spiritual alphabet can be understood as thirty-seven forms of satisfying and harmonious intensity.
Throughout the slideshow you will find links to each of the thirty-seven forms on the Spirituality and Practice website. We hope you will follow the links. You will find that each "letter" in the alphabet can be understood and practiced in many different ways.
From the vantage point of process philosophy, the letters are qualities of heart and mind which give value to life. Borrowing a phrase from John Cobb and Charles Birch in their book The Liberation of Life, we speak of them as forms of richness of experience. As John Cobb explains in Whitehead's Theory of Value, richness of experience is at the heart of Whitehead's understanding of value. In Whitehead, value is richness of experience.
The thirty-seven letters, then, are forms of life and forms of value. They are part of our evolutionary and cultural potential and, in this sense, as natural as gravity and emotions. Indeed, they are forms of emotional and cognitive wisdom, although we are not necessarily born with them. They can be cultivated, mentored, and learned by imitation. They can be encouraged in education in the home, in the faith community, at school, and in the public arena. Workplaces and the halls of congress, small groups and large organizations, can have a spiritual side: compassion, justice, imagination, and joy, for example. Additionally, the many kinds of spirituality can be studied scientifically, as in the pioneering work of positive psychology and neuroscience. Spirituality is not the province of theologians and artists alone. It is a natural occurrence.
This does not mean that spirituality cannot be understood religiously. As the slide show makes clear, spirituality can be understood as a way of being responsive to God as a lure toward richness of experience and also as a way of participating in God's aliveness. Process theology offers many ways of thinking about God (see six approaches to God) even as it can be appropriated by non-theists.
In short, a process understanding of spirituality is available to theists and non-theists alike. This includes non-theists who are religious. Zen Buddhism is not theistic, for example, but it is religious; and Zen Buddhists are especially good at one of the thirty-seven forms of spirituality, "being present" in the present moment.
One value of combining process thought and the spiritual alphabet is that it helps expand our horizons of appreciation: we can appreciate the spiritual gifts of people from different religious traditions and of spiritual independents. We need not reduce "spirituality" to one quality of heart and mind. We can recognize and appreciate many forms of aliveness. We can be grateful that some people are spiritual in ways that we may lack. "G" is for gratitude.
Another value of combining process thought and the spiritual alphabet is that it lends itself to a recognition spirituality begins, not with human life alone, but with the broader world: other animals, plants, hills and rivers, trees and stars. Spirituality has an ecological side. We live in an enspirited universe. We find playfulness and imagination in animals, not in human beings alone, and the unfolding universe itself seems to be, in its way, an imaginative exercise. "P" is for play and "I" is for imagination.
Still another is that spirituality, thus understood, can be joined with the four hopes of the world today: whole persons, whole communities, whole planet, and holistic thinking. The wholeness we seek for ourselves and others, and indeed for the planet, has a spiritual side. Not only individuals, but also communities, can be spiritual. "H" is for hope.
We hope this slide show offers you some hope.
Jay McDaniel composed the text, and Jared Morningstar developed the graphics.
Images of Aliveness
All images from Unsplash: Creative Commons
Books in Spirituality with a Process Spirit
In God's Presence: Theological Reflections on Prayer by Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki
A Process Spirituality: Christian and Transreligious Resources for Transformation, by Sheri D. Kling
How I Found God in Everyone and Everywhere, Philip Clayton and Andrew Davis, eds.
Radical Wholeness: The Embodied Present and the Ordinary Grace of Being, by Philip Shepherd and Jeff Brown
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants, by Robyn Wall Kimmerer
Seek Teachings Everywhere: Combining Druid Spirituality with Other Traditions, by Philip Carr-Gomm
Living from the Center: Spirituality in an Age of Consumerism, by Jay McDaniel