The Mormonism I experienced as a youth was kind and supportive and pervasive in its influence in my life – both on a personal level and in my community (I moved to Provo, UT when I was 12). Despite my heavy involvement in the church as a kid and teen and while serving a two-year mission, I often felt as though there was a disconnect between my spiritual self (what I felt at my core as expansive and in communion with the divine) and how I perceived spirituality was experienced and gained by those in my faith community. I couldn’t help but feel like I was somewhat spiritually delinquent. My scripture reading was too infrequent, my prayers too mundane, and though I went to church it felt more like a family habit than a time for deep spiritual communion. Now this wasn’t always the case, scripture reading, prayers, and church attendance had all produced experiences that moved and transformed me – and yet even though I knew I was a spiritual person – I didn’t really feel it in the ways and places that I was supposed to (or so I thought). Church was not a place that I felt very “spiritual” and I figured I (or the church) was doing something wrong.
After some time I let go of judging my spirituality based on if I had read a verse in the canonized scriptures that day. I realized that the concept of “pondering” gave me the chance to see my spiritual identity through a more affirming light. I recognized that I felt a communion with the spirit in a variety of places – walking, listening to music, creating some kind of art, driving, thinking, talking with friends, and just basically noticing the world around me in a particular way. I love to ponder – I can sit and think about ideas all day – and they usually wind up revolving around how better to love God and my fellow humans. And how to engage in building Zion – both internally and externally. To realize and accept that spiritual communion can and should look different for everyone was very freeing to me and helped me to expand my spiritual practice and to engage more confidently in my faith community.
When I came across it a couple of years ago, the tree of contemplative practices was a welcome manifestation of a testimony that I had already gained from the spirit. My spiritual practice is not limited to the big 3: read, pray, and go to church. In fact, those very three things that had begun to feel desolate and dying with cultural baggage and misplaced guilt, were actually a part of a much bigger system of practices that facilitate communion and connection to God and people and life itself.
The image below is titled, The Tree of Contemplative Practices. In a following post or two I’d like to explore correlations to Mormonism as it is and can be (as experienced by me of course).
The tree designed by Maia Duerr consists of roots and branches and leaves (like most trees do). The roots seem to form the base or purpose of all contemplative practices. The branches organize different practices into sub groups and the leaves consist of the specific practices named. Some of them have links to further description or a Wikipedia definition. The tree does not contain a comprehensive listing of contemplative practices.
As you notice the different branches on this tree, think about how these practices may have been present or absent in your own religious experience at various times in your life. I wonder as a Mormon, if this kind of representation of individual and communal spirituality could help us to further enrich our relationships with each other and our methodology for seeking truth and communing with the divine. Would this expansive perspective of spiritual practice be seen as something new and different (a threat to Mormon truthiness) or as a continuation of the ongoing restoration of the gospel which has been spoken about by church leaders in recent months.
***This particular blog post was hastened by my listening to Adam S. Miller interviewed by John Dehlin and then the week later by Dan Wortherspoon. In the interviews, Miller (whose writings are among the most exciting in Mormon thought right now), expresses his affinity for contemplative practices. This was not surprising to me as his writings are littered all over with the admonition to trust that “now” (the present moment that is given) is all that we have and that our waking up to that is what religion is all about. His reading and constructing of Mormon theology invites us to notice how Mormonism is open and ready to embrace much of the enduring ideas and truths more fully fleshed out in eastern religions and contemplative approaches. Listen to the podcast with John Dehlin here and the one with Stephen Carter and Dan Wotherspoon here.