Take a look at the self-help section in any online or bricks and mortar bookstore. In the spirituality category, you will find loads of how-to books. These recommend techniques or, in some cases, promote a specific spiritual practice to help you live a more fulfilling life. A new book on spirituality takes a different approach.
In the Middle of Things: The Spirituality of Everyday Life by B.C. author Paul Crawford is a broad and comprehensive discussion of spirituality. Crawford preaches no creed. Rather, he draws on the wisdom of the major religious traditions to illustrate that spirituality is a natural human capacity for finding meaning in life.
Infused with quotations from scientists, artists, sages and sacred texts, In the Middle of Things reflects the author’s extensive academic background in interdisciplinary studies, as well as his life experience as a musician, teacher and person of faith. This is a book of big concepts and deep thought.
The reader won’t find clichés, platitudes, or techniques for developing his or her spiritual nature. In The Middle of Things doesn’t provide the reader with a path to follow. Instead, the author invites the reader to delve deeply into various questions with him as he explores his thinking. Do we have what we need? Why do we get in our own way so often? Why is an end always a beginning?
He invites the reader to decipher the mystery of being. Are we able to see with the eyes of paradox, to find light in darkness, completeness in incompleteness, strength in weakness, life in death?
As I read, I frequently found myself in dialogue with In The Middle of Things. I took the dialogue one step further when Crawford and I sat down one afternoon to talk about the book. I had planned to ask him a bunch of questions, but our conversation proceeded quite differently from my attempts to orchestrate.
The structure of In The Middle Of Things reminded me of a musical composition. This is no accident since the author is also a musician. Our conversation, like the book, was non-linear. It didn’t move sequentially from point to point. It flowed from idea to idea, and circled back upon itself to clarify a thought, to add a new insight or promote an exchange.
“Spirituality does ask something of us,” said Crawford. “It asks that we be lifelong learners,” but not in the sense of acquiring objective facts and knowledge. Our culture, with its emphasis on scientific inquiry and reliance on technology, conditions us to doubt our spiritual capacity. “We think that things that are corroborated by science are more authentic. We can’t accept a piece of knowledge unless we have scientific evidence.” Yet, we intuit the transcendent and know it in those ineffable “take-our-breath” away experiences.
“We learn from love-empowered experiences” when we are centred in the present and when we recognize our interdependency. Interdependency is not a popular idea; we prize autonomy and independence. Crawford uses the title of a 1981 film, Whose Life Is It Anyway?, to reflect on personal autonomy and interdependency. Do we have the right to act as an autonomous individual, without regard for the effect of our actions on others? Or do we have a responsibility to act as a participant in the whole of life?
Living in the present gets a lot of attention in books about spirituality. Perhaps this is because we have difficulty allowing life to unfold moment to moment. “We want to interject. We need to learn how not to do, so we can really live in the present.”
The next time you’re shopping for a book, take a few moments to browse the self-help section. You will find a lot of spiritual gurus. Crawford suggests that we don’t need a guru. Why? “The fundamental reality out of which we come is love. We already have everything we need. The reality of God is within us. The truth dwells within.”
In a famous essay, 17th century English philosopher Francis Bacon wrote, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” More philosophical than the standard fare on spirituality, In The Middle of Things gives the reader plenty of food for thought.
Louise McEwan has degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation.