Practical Advice

Two and a half years ago, I had the great joy of attending the On Being Gathering — a long weekend in the California redwoods with several hundred fascinating people.

What united that group was (and is) one of the big insights of On Being‘s founder and host, Krista Tippett: spiritual wisdom (from many traditions) is hardly irrelevant to modern times — in fact, it might be the most practical, present guidance we have.

I know I’m not the only one in my circles who’s both skeptical of institutional religion and eagerly seeking wisdom beyond the headlines. Walking in the gardens of the National Cathedral yesterday, I pondered why that might be. Here are some early hypotheses:

  • Other cultures in other times knew some important things that we have mostly or completely forgotten.
  • While we can’t ignore those cultures’ sins — the cathedral gardens consciously emulate those built and tended by serfs under the power of often-warped religious and political systems — we shouldn’t ignore their wisdom, either. A midday walk among manicured plants, subtle water features, and iconic statuary is not only a privilege but an exercise in nourishing and flourishing.
  • From the Founders’ references to “Divine Providence” to explicit mentions of (and fights over) religion today, U.S. politics have always looked beyond politics proper. Today, though, our politics are so poisoned that it’s frankly difficult to see a purely political way out — perhaps there is such a thing as purely secular forgiveness, but I suspect what’s really required of us now is better described in spiritual language. (Richard Rohr’s “include and transcend” phrase comes to mind.)
  • In short, the destruction, denigration, or denial of one’s neighbor is a (secular) political act. But if we are to remain united as a political community, we’re going to have to get over ourselves in a way that our sclerotic, spectacle-addicted, ad hominem political culture does not readily provide us good language for.

And so a show like On Being, or a sage like Martin Shaw, or a teacher like Howard Thurman might be exactly the right place to turn right now.

Or, as Martin Shaw says, the wisdom we need now might have showed up right on time, thousands of years ago. And walking in the garden or beside large bodies of water, or listening to music that moves us, or even just sitting quietly for a while, might be the most practical advice there is or ever was.