Since the pandemic began, I’ve been intentional about developing new habits in my life. I’ve been eating healthier by adopting a primarily vegetarian diet. I’ve been spending more time with my family. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve made a concerted effort to keep my creative pursuits alive. Once the quarantine measures began, my job as a pastor became more demanding than ever. Running a church virtually takes twice as much time as when we were meeting in person. As a result, my creative pursuits fell by the wayside.
By September 2020, I found myself in a bit of a bind. I needed time to write and edit the episodes for Season 2 of the Restorative Faith Podcast, but that time didn’t exist. Therefore, I concluded my only option was to create more time by getting up early every morning. I’m not going to lie, I hate getting up early. Everyone has their natural sleep pattern and mine was getting up around 8am. This was a real sacrifice for me. Begrudgingly, I forced myself to wake up at 6:15am and would work for about an hour and a half every morning.
My new sleep schedule was grueling, but it paid off. Slowly, I was able to craft the episodes and get them ready for the December launch. Once everything was finally finished, I was elated to return to my previous sleep schedule. I remember the first night of setting my alarm for 8am and thinking, “This is going to be so refreshing!” I closed my eyes and when I opened them again, I looked over at my alarm clock and it was 6:15am on the nose. There was no rolling over and going back to bed. My brain was awake and firing on all cylinders.
Initially, I was distraught that my body had adjusted to the time change. While I stared at the ceiling, the realization slowly dawned on me that this was a golden opportunity. What other projects could I pursue with this extra time? The first idea that rose to the surface was something I had been mulling ever since I published the Restorative Faith book in 2019. In my mind, I had always envisioned writing three books about Christianity. The first book resets the theology of the Christian faith (this became Restorative Faith). The second redefines the spirituality of the Christian faith. The third recounts the untold story of the early Christian church and the lessons we need to glean from those early years in order for the church to survive in the 21st century.
The problem was Restorative Faith took four and a half years from the initial writing to its publication. By the time I finally had the book in my hand, I was exhausted and somewhat discouraged. I pitched my book to all kinds of different publishers and no one would touch my manuscript. Christian publishers felt it was too unorthodox and secular publishers felt it was too religious. I was in this weird niche. With nowhere else to turn, I eventually made the decision to publish through Amazon’s KDP program, which turned out to be an excellent choice. I received a higher percentage of revenue from each sale of my book than I would have through traditional publishers. I also had sole control over the content, look and feel of the final product.
On that January morning, as I sat in my bed contemplating what to do with my time, I decided to begin writing the second book about spirituality tentatively titled Restorative Beauty. Although I am now a few chapters into my manuscript, I thought that I would offer you a taste of what I’ve been laboring over every morning at 6:15am. Below is the introduction to Restorative Beauty. If you find the premise intriguing, let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!
Restorative Beauty Introduction
If you’re anything like me, the word spirituality can be triggering. One of the most cutting criticisms I’ve received as a pastor is that I am not spiritual enough. I once had a parishioner come to my office and ream me out because she felt that my sermons had no spiritual substance. In an effort to better empathize with her complaint, I said, “Can you give me an example of what I’m doing wrong, because I’m not exactly sure what you’re looking for?” She couldn’t. She eventually became very frustrated and said, “If you don’t understand what spirituality is, then I can’t explain it to you.”
Spirituality is a very amorphous concept. It means different things to different people. For some people, spirituality describes their connection with God. For others, spirituality describes their inner path to experiencing a transcendental reality or discovering the essence of their being. And still others view spirituality as a quest for love or fulfillment. Moreover, every person experiences spirituality in their own unique way. What qualifies as spiritual for one person might not qualify as spiritual for another and vice-versa.
Interestingly, the use of the word spirituality is at an all-time high in the English language. There are more people today in America who describe themselves as spiritual rather than religious. Indeed, while Americans are abandoning religious institutions like churches, synagogues and mosques at record pace, they have simultaneously adopted a spiritual identity. As the religious scholar Reza Aslan said on my podcast, “What’s happening in America is not that people are becoming more secular. It’s that people are turning away from traditional religion towards alternative ways of experiencing transcendence.”
In other words, those same people who have rejected Christianity are not becoming atheists and rejecting belief in God. They are not claiming that the only experiences worth having are those connected with the physical world. These are people who still believe in something beyond themselves and long for a connection with a force that transcends our temporal reality. They simply feel the church is not the place where they will discover that connection.
I can’t blame them for feeling this way. Christians are masterful at narrowly defining what a spiritual experience should be. If you’re Evangelical, spirituality is connecting with God through your own personal relationship with Jesus. If you’re Pentecostal, spirituality is the act of speaking in tongues. If you’re mainline Protestant, spirituality is the ritual of reciting liturgy. If you’re Catholic, spirituality is partaking of Eucharist, consuming the body and blood of Jesus. In every denomination, the weekly worship service is upheld as the primary venue through which their version of spiritual connectivity is generated.
But what if none of those approaches are successful in facilitating a spiritual experience for you? You go to church on Sunday morning and sit amidst the faithful. You sing the songs, pray the prayers, listen attentively to the scriptures and sermon, but you walk away feeling no different than when you entered. Everyone else seems engaged and energized. You ask yourself, “What am I missing? Perhaps I don’t connect with this particular church?” So you try another church and then another. Each time you become more convinced, “Maybe there’s something wrong with me?” Until eventually you come to the disheartening conclusion that spirituality is not for you.
If this has been your experience in church, don’t despair. You’re in good company. In fact, there are more people like you in the world than not. Even though 85% of the world population claim some form of religious identity, when you dig down into those numbers, what you discover is that the vast majority of those people are religious by cultural association. A person might identify as Christian, Hindu or Muslim because they were raised in that tradition, but that same person has likely never had a spiritual experience as a result of their religion. Only a comparatively small percentage of those who identify with a particular religious tradition claim to experience spirituality through their religion.
What I have discovered during my time as a pastor is that there are a lot of people who desire to be spiritual, but are not sure how to achieve that connection. They want something more, but the traditional methods of discovering spirituality leave them feeling unfulfilled. Hence the reason I have written this book. My goal is to create guide for the unspiritual. This is a step-by-step process through which anyone can discover moments of spiritual connectivity and transcendence. Indeed, my guess would be that you’ve already had these types of experiences, you simply never categorized them as spiritual.
To this end, I want you to know what to expect. Chapters 1 and 2 are going to set the foundation. We are going to return to some basic principles that I covered in Restorative Faith as they provide the appropriate theological/intellectual framework for approaching spirituality. Chapters 3 and 4 are designed to explore the science of how our universe is constructed. Although science might seem an odd pairing in a book about spirituality, science is a gateway to untold mystery, which is the key to opening spiritual doors for the rational mind. Finally, the remaining four chapters will provide you with the methods by which you can facilitate spiritual experiences in your life.