January, 2003. Let's face it. We're living in wartime. And it may always be this way. A new reality hangs like a dark cloud over every breath we take. It lingers in our consciousness like a bad dream.
For many people around the world, wartime is not a new experience. A survey revealed that one-quarter of the countries — 53 out of 193 — struggled with armed conflict during 2002. But Americans are not used to living in an atmosphere of danger. We grow more anxious every day about our long-term security. What kind of world will today's children inherit? News reports are all about the "road to war" and possible threats to our safety. Can our government and our technology protect us?
Soldiers in past wars experienced battle fatigue, and more and more people are reporting a similar numbness of feeling, disorientation, depression, and pervasive anxiety. They complain of sleeplessness, paranoia, and a lack of energy and purpose. This is the first time many of us have found ourselves in the circle of fear inhabited by the poor, the refugees, and the dispossessed. We don't know what to think or to do.
In our book Spiritual Literacy, we asked the question: "How can we live a spiritual life every day?" Today we need spiritually literate ways to live in wartime.
We mean wartime in the broad sense of the term — not just the war in Iraq but the ongoing war on terrorism and the changes in our perceptions of safety and security that accompany it. By wartime we also mean the multiple conflicts that go under the umbrella of culture wars: battles between races or over sexual orientation, disputes based on religious intolerance and ignorance, the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Depending upon who's speaking, we have wars against women, young people, seniors, workers, or management. There's the war on drugs. And if animals, plants, waters, and air could speak, they would complain about the war against nature. We live with a heightened sense of separation.
Unlike conventional wars of the past, these contemporary conflagrations are not likely to have a critical turning point or a day of victory. There is no "over there" — the front lines are everywhere. There are no desks to duck under, no shelters to hide out in. We are all caught up in wartime.
Yet despite this milieu of unrelenting tension, millions are still in denial. Even after September 11, 2001, we remain convinced that real war will never come to American shores. Political leaders conduct business as usual, and corporations pursue greater profits despite widespread unemployment. The media engages in a massive diversion effort by programming reality shows emphasizing the most vile and degrading aspects of human nature. Equally disconcerting are the increasing number of films that water the seeds of violence and continue to promote simplistic "us" versus "them" mythologies of hatred and destructiveness. From political ads to schoolyard bullying, even the language has been tainted by conflict so that civil discourse seems to have all but vanished.
There is another way to see and be in this world. For centuries spiritual and religious traditions have offered strategies to help people cope with difficulties, challenges, separations, and quite a few wars. Spiritual resources show us how to deal with fear, frustration, anger, depression, exhaustion, helplessness, and hopelessness. They hold up devotional practices, ethical deeds, and healing perspectives that enable us to face wartime situations and transform them into catalysts for reconciliation, peacemaking, and justice. Compassion, connections, forgiveness, hope, kindness, unity, vision — these and the other spiritual practices celebrated on this website are good medicine for these times.
(Updated 2015) Spiritual Literacy in Today's World was originally titled Spiritual Literacy in Wartime. This project of SpiritualityandPractice.com addresses these aspects of wartime and other trends in our world and offers spiritual practices to help you cope. The archives, available here, contains links to the emails that were sent to subscribers to an e-course in 2003 - 2005. Additional articles created over the years have followed the same format.
Each article focuses on a theme, and we begin by giving you our spiritually literate reading of the challenges and opportunities it offers us in our times. We then give you links to readings that illuminate the theme -- excerpts, usually three or four paragraphs, from books we have reviewed. You can also read the reviews of the books for more information on an author's views. Some of the readings will suggest a good spiritual practice for you to try. If the readings don't, we will. So each article contains both readings and practices.
In a very real sense, Spiritual Literacy in Today's World is a sequel to Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life. In that book, we collected 650 short passages that illustrate a spiritual approach to everyday life. We demonstrated how we can recognize the presence of God in our lives through encounters with things, places, nature, and animals. We examined how our activities can put us on a spiritual path with passages on leisure, creativity, work, and service. We looked at how spirituality can inform our relationships with our bodies, partners, families, friends, and community. Now we will seek out spiritually literate ways to respond to a world of heightened separations, finding the presence of God amidst fear, tension, and conflict.
These articles also continue the work that we presented in Spiritual Rx: Prescriptions for Living a Meaningful Life and have developed further at SpiritualityandPractice.com. We have identified 37 spiritual practices, the Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy, that are markers of the spiritual life: if you want to know what makes an attitude or an activity spiritual — look for them. In Spiritual Rx we devoted a chapter to each practice, with suggestions of books to read, videos to watch, spiritual exercises, prayers and mantras, imagery, journal exercises, art, and more. On the website, we created a homepage for each one with more resources to help you incorporate the practice into your daily life.
These practices are the core curriculum of Spiritual Literacy in Today's World. We have found them to be clear signs of a spiritual perspective and a practical path to a fully integrated, meaningful, and purposeful life. In times of international, cultural, and interpersonal conflict, when the dark emotions of fear and anger are surfacing all around us, when people are working diligently to create a better world — we need to explore, experiment with, and embrace compassion, connections, forgiveness, hope, hospitality, justice, kindness, meaning, peace, reverence, transformation, unity, vision, and other practices.
That is what we intend to do with Spiritual Literacy in Today's World. A good preparation for this project, then, would be to become familiar with the practices as we have defined them and applied them to daily life.
- Read a review of Spiritual Literacy and an excerpt defining the term.
- See a list and brief definitions of The Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy.
Welcome to Spiritual Literacy in Today's World. We haven't set a time limit on this project. We're here for the long haul, and we are very glad to have company.
Salaam, Shalom, Shanti, Peace,
Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat