In which Ruth explores Spirituality (part 1)

Spirituality. What does it mean? The search for the sacred? Participating in organised religion? Or is it more personal? Yoga, meditation, silent prayer, tai chi, sweat lodges, the list goes on. Each of us could define spirituality in a different way.

Throughout my life I seem to have been searching for ‘spirituality’. As I didn’t start going to church until I was in my late 20s it has obviously not been all Christian spirituality. When I went through the selection process for ordination to the priesthood I remember telling the Selectors that my journey of different spiritualities all are important parts of my journey. They all agreed. However it has not always been so well received. Sometimes Christians just seem a little narrow minded when it comes to spirituality.

Last week I had my Ministerial Review with the Bishop (but more of that another day!). And it got me thinking about spirituality and what works for me. Do you want to hear what started it all off for me? (Apart from my love and lust for Marc Bolan which was a very spiritual thing but pretty personal.) You do? Oh good. So I thought I might blog a bit about some of the spiritualities I’ve encountered along the way. Remember we didn’t all go to Sunday School and Scripture Union.

So my first encounter of spirituality was in 1970 when I was about 14. That was the year after that great Aquarian Exposition, the Festival of Woodstock. This was also the year I fell in love with the colour purple and have worn it ever since. 1970 was a wonderful age for fashion in Edinburgh and much of it was influenced by Woodstock. Bell bottoms, cheese-cloth shirts and skirts, tie-dye, long hair with flowers and beads and bells. At the age of 14 fashion is terribly important especially when you go to an All Girls School and the uniform is truly ghastly and strictly enforced (maroon blazer, gold crest of unicorn (the only good thing about it), tussore dress and straw hat in summer). So when I saw this beautiful hippy chick walking along the Meadows in front of me, wearing a long crushed velvet rich purple skirt edged with little silver-like bells, bare feet and a flower drawn on her face, I fell in love with the colour purple. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. *sighs*

peace-love-musicAnyway, that was not the spiritual moment. No, my first dabbling in spirituality came via a friend who had the boxed set of Woodstock records. (Not many people had the full boxed set because it was terribly expensive.) The sad thing is that I can remember lots of this bit of the story but not the name of the person, the friend who introduced me to Woodstock music and my first spiritual moment. But a group of us would lie around her bedroom listening to Joe Cocker, Melanie, Country Joe and the Fish, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, and all the rest. “One, two , three, what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me cos I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam…” Funny what sticks in the memory, eh? Oh how we wanted to go to a music festival where peace and love abounded but we were just too young. Too young to wear flowers in our hair and walk barefoot in the street. Too young to smoke exotic substances but just old enough to experiment with joss sticks from Cockburn Street Market and wear badges on our blazers with peace symbols.

One day my friend announced that she was joining the Hare Krishna movement. How terribly exotic! How beautifully non-Presbyterian! How trendy and modern and unusual (and dare I say it, attention-seeking?) for even then, dear Reader, I was not averse to a little bit of limelight. Of course we had all seen those strange Hare Krishna people dancing along Princes Street in their saffron robes and tiny cymbals and drums. As they chanted ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Rama’ and smiled beatifically we wondered what these creatures were. Of course we knew it was something to do with the Hindu faith but these devotees in Edinburgh still looked distinctly Scottish underneath their exotic garb. They begged for money, they were vegetarian, they meditated and they chanted. A lot. But it was quite a sacrifice to give up life in an Edinburgh flat to go and live in a commune with a lot of strangers.

So we were full of questions for our friend. She must have been older then me, but I seem to hare_krishna_and_jesus_christ_wallpaper_jxhyremember not much over 16 or 17. Why? And it was the meditation which drew her into their arms. Meditation was very big in the 60s and 70s. It was all about finding enlightenment and encountering ‘the other’. God, we call it. Throughout my search for spirituality I encountered God many times, but not always was ‘his/her’ name ‘God’. Sometimes it was Krishna. Sometimes it involved cleansing your body (no caffeine, no alcohol, no intoxication, no meat) so that you could cleanse your mind. And who wouldn’t like to strive for mercy, truthfulness, love and peace? One day I went to the temple with her. Oh the colours! Gaudy, yes, but somehow beautiful. I seem to remember a sort of altar with statues and posters of Indian images and lots of colourful flowers, and then on the floor lay fruit and vegetables. My friend (was she called Rosie? although she had taken another name by then) solemnly gave me an orange. “This is Prasadam,” she said. If I have remember correctly, the orange became ‘prasadam’ when it was offered at the altar and blessed in prayer. It still looked like an orange but it was something more. I struggled to get my head round this. You Episcopalians will have no trouble, of course. It was merely Transubstantiation!! But I wrestled a bit with this concept, but I liked it. I liked that an ordinary thing could be transformed into something more, something special by prayers and God’s blessings. So it was not something to be eaten casually or thrown away. It was something special, something set apart.

I took the orange/prasadam home. My family were visiting, I remember. My poor old granny looked bewildered as I explained to her that this was not really an orange but something much, much more. (At her last visit I had insisted she read the lyrics of Marc Bolan’s Electric Warrior LP.) My uncle thought it was “bloody nonsense” and went out for a walk.  The rest of us shared the orange and you know it tasted like an orange. But for me, it was just a little bit more.



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