Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"In the Middle of Things: The Spirituality of Everyday Life"

I first met Paul Crawford one Sunday after Mass about a decade ago.  I knew something was different that Sunday before I walked into the church.  I could hear the organ and it sounded like a concert in a cathedral.  After Mass, I introduced myself to the man who was able to coax such beautiful sound out of our parish's simple instrument.

Paul is not only a musician.  He is also a writer.  His new book, "In the Middle of Things: The Spirituality of Everyday Life" takes a different approach to popular books on spirituality which frequently fall into the "how-to" category.

“In the Middle of Things" 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.  “In The Middle Of Things” is a book of big concepts and deep thought. 

Unlike much of contemporary, popular literature on spirituality, the reader will not find clich├ęs, platitudes, or techniques for developing his or her spiritual nature. “In The Middle of Things” does not 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 own 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 through its pages, I frequently found myself in dialogue with “In The Middle of Things”.   I was able to take the dialogue one step further when Crawford and I sat down one afternoon to talk about the book.  I had planned to ask Crawford a bunch of questions, but our conversation proceeded quite differently than my attempts to orchestrate.

The structure of “In The Middle Of Things” reminded me of a musical composition.  This is no accident coming from an author who is also a musician.  Our conversation, like the book, was non-linear.  It did not 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 to promote an exchange.

“Spirituality does ask something of us”, said Crawford. “It asks that we be life-long 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 centered 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 from 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 are shopping for a book, take a few moments to browse the spiritual titles in 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. 

"In the Middle of Things: The Spirituality of Everyday Life" by Paul D. Crawford is available from both Chapters/Indigo and Amazon.