Thursday, February 10, 2005

Spirituality and nation building

``Never mind, we’re topnotchers naman in spirituality, NGOs and deuterium deposits.’’ That was the comment of Butch Perez on Juan Mercado’s column piece titled ``Cellar Status’’ (Inquirer, Jan. 13, 2005) which was posted in the plaridel e-group. Mercado had bewailed Filipino students’ Math proficiency thus: ``So when do we scramble out this cellar?…Jammed between Morocco and Botswana, our kids limped in putting our country at No. 41 among 45 countries in Math.’’

Perez’s one-liner gave me an aray moment but it made me laugh because of its sheer sarcasm. Aren’t we tops din in jeepney mudguard epigrams?

Seriously now, spirituality—the deeply rooted and enriching variety--ain’t no laughing matter. In the recent Karangalan National Conference/Festival, which had for its theme ``Mobilizing Excellence to Create a Visionary Philippines’’, the subject of spirituality was discussed.

Sr. Mary John Mananzan OSB, prioress of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in the Philippines spoke on ``The Role of Spirituality in Nation-Building.’’ She began by noting that a lot was said about the different kinds of energy--economic, political and cultural--needed to re-create the country, as well as the natural energies that must be harnessed. But, she stressed, ``I believe one of the most untapped resources of human kind is spiritual energy and yet no nation building can succeed without it.’’

Spiritual energy, Mananzan said, is the mother lode and the most powerful of all energies. It is the most available energy for it is around and in us. It is inexhaustible, that is, the more we use it, the greater it becomes.

It goes by different names in different traditions. Shakti-kundalini for the Hindus; chi for the Buddhists; tao for the Taoists and the Holy Spirit in the Christian tradition. It is the life force, the divine life, the spiritual principle.

I have myself noticed that people sometimes confuse spirituality with religiosity or even with pietistic rituals. Reciting novenas to a dozen saints or memorizing a thousand verses from holy scriptures, per se, does not necessarily mean you are holy in the eyes of the God whose name you invoke. And such practices, if you ask me, are not entirely what spirituality is all about.

Mananzan presented Hindu spiritual teacher Sri Aurobindo’s take on what spirituality is not: ``Spirituality is not a high intellectuality or idealism; it is not an ethical turn of mind or moral purity and austerity. It is not religiosity or an ardent and exalted emotional fervor and not even a compound of these excellent things. It is not a mental belief, creed or faith; it is not an emotional aspiration, a regulation of conduct according to a religious or ethical formula; it is not spiritual achievement and experience.’’

Spirituality, Mananzan stressed, is, in its essence ``an awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a spirit, self, soul which is other than the mind, life and body. It is an inner inspiration to know, to feel…to enter into contact with the greater Reality behind and pervading the universe which inhabits also our own being.

``It is to be in communion with it and in union with it. It is a turning, a conversion, a transformation of our whole being as a result of the aspiration, the contact, the union. It is a growth. It is a waking into a new becoming or new being, new self, new nature.’’

I found a great working definition of spirituality which I needed for a book being prepared. This came from noted theologian Fr. Percy Bacani of the Missionaries of Jesus: ``Spirituality is expressed in everything we do. It is a style, unique to the self, that catches up all our attitudes: in communal and personal prayer, in behavior, bodily expressions, life choices, in what we support and affirm and what we protest and deny. As our deepest self in relation to God, to the whole, and so literally in everything, spirituality changes, grows, or diminishes in the whole context of life.

``Consciously cultivated, nourished, cared about, it often takes the character of struggle as we strive to integrate new perceptions or convictions. And it bears the character of grace as we are lifted beyond previous levels of integration by a power greater than our own.

``Spirituality is deeply informed by family, teachers, friends, community, class, race, culture, sex, by our time in history, just as it is influenced by beliefs, intellectual positions and moral options. These influences may be unconscious or made explicit through reading, reflection, conversation, even conversion. And so spirituality includes and is expressed in our self-conscious or critical appraisal of our situation in time, in history and in culture.’’

Enriching one’s spiritual life, Mananzan said, means building a core of beliefs, values and attitudes from which fundamental decisions and choices spring. Of course, this must bear fruit and face external challenges on the ground such as economic injustice, the woman question, the environmental crisis, fundamentalism and religious intolerance, the culture of violence. How do we respond?

And so Mananzan spoke of ``transforming spirituality.’’ One that is affirming and mutually empowering, integrating and liberating. It is prophetic, it announces the good news and denounces the bad. It is contemplative, that is, it draws from stillness and solitude and is attuned to the present. It is healing and compassionate. And of course, yes, of course, it celebrates.

To Chinese-Filipinos who have enriched this country, Happy New Year of the Rooster. Shuey e, or better still, Kampei!