Spiritiuality and Individualism: “One serving of Mahayana Buddhism with some Nazarene Methodism on the side, thanks.”

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By: Nathan

We all know the story of the old man, the boy, the beach and the starfish. It was written by anthropologist Loren Eiseley. The story peaks right at the end:

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, [the boy] said, “It made a difference for that one.”

This story’s about the importance of every individual. But there is a fundamental difference between starfish and people. People exist in a community whereas, Starfish, for the most part, live out the majority of their ten-year lifespan alone.

People aren’t isolated like this. Though of course every individual is important, we are created for coexistence with each other. And so it is with our spirituality.

Sometimes, though, it feels like our spirituality is corrupted by individualism. Let me explain.

I’m part of a new church in St Kilda – Arkhouse Church. We gather at Cora Graves Centre on Blessington Street.

As a new church in St Kilda, we’re learning every day about the spiritual diversity of St Kilda; those meet in formal gatherings as well as individual seekers and sojourners from other places. We’re so thankful for the opportunity to contribute to this rich tapestry.

But something we’ve noticed recently is how easy it is for us all to approach spirituality like Saturday morning brunch.

“One serving of Mahayana Buddhism with a pinch of Sikh worship and some Nazarene Methodism on the side, thanks.”

If we’re being honest with ourselves we’d probably admit we all do this at different times. Needing calm because of travel stress? Take some eastern mysticism three times a day. Feeling tired from a long shift? Pray to God whose eye is on the sparrow and I know he comforts me. Or, play the calming sounds of the ocean on itunes and drop a sleeping pill. Hangover from Hell? Anything will do.

But it seems that with this self-serving approach to our modern day spiritual smorgasbord, comes confusion – not just in our own spiritual identity, but also in how we understand the role of spirituality. It’s as though spirituality (whatever form it may take) is reduced to yet another product designed to meet our individual needs.

Is there anything wrong this? Well, at one level, of course not. Our personal needs are important. But I think if we look further, we can see great opportunity for so much more than reducing faith to yet another consumer product, especially if we’re really on the quest for meaning, truth and purpose.

A different view of spirituality is to see it as a means for serving our community.

Because, you see, we’re all busy and short on time. Most of our days are spent interacting with others. And now thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, even when we’re alone, we are still interacting with others. But maybe this is done at the expense of real interaction and sense of community.

Arkhouse seeks a spirituality taught and modeled on Jesus – who came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many, as a way of demonstrating the radical love of God.

It’s a model I think we can all learn from. It’s what we’re trying to embrace at Arkhouse. I know I definitely need to go beyond looking at my own needs and find ways in which my faith and love can drive my service of this community and my interactions with others.

Nathan is involved with Arkhouse Church, a new church that gathers in Cora Graves Centre, 5.00pm Sundays.


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