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" Friendship is a sheltering tree "

Coleridge

The Purpose of Spirituality and Religion

November 29th, 2008

How can we respond to the problems we see in the world – of war, suffering and environmental degradation?

Do we have to choose between either denial or despair?

There’s a third way, neither denying the sadness nor getting submerged in it.

Instead allowing awareness of it, feeling it deeply, grieving it, and digging deep

– to find an anchorage.

An anchorage in Nature – in tangible Nature out there and in our own inner Nature.

One way to do this is to find the Gateways between these two Natures. Where do they meet?

This idea of ‘Gateways’ between the realms is central to the spiritual path. Each tradition will speak about this in different ways – as an example, in the Jain tradition the 24 great teachers are known as Tirthankaras, which means ‘Ford-makers’ – suggesting they help create a bridge/ford/gateway between this and the Otherworld, between normal consciousness and a spiritualised consciousness, between outer Nature and our Inner Natures. The founder of the Baha’i religion was known as ‘the Bab’ which means ‘gate’. In Druidry, natural features or deliberately placed stones or trees form magical gateways that can help us access other realities. I’m reminded of this whenever I visit our local sacred site – the ‘Long Man of Wilmington’, a giant outline of a human being on a hillside who seems to be creating a gateway for us, reminding us of Novalis’ statement that ‘Visible and invisible, two worlds meet in man.’ This idea is strongly evident in shamanism in the process whereby the shaman makes journeys into the Otherworld to bring back healing, or knowledge that will help in the manifest world.

All these things – teachers, teachings, sacred places, practices such as ritual and meditation – have as their purpose the creation and maintenance of gateways so that there can be traffic, commerce, connection – a flow – between the worlds. And in this period of instability they take on an increasing importance as anchor points that can help us to avoid falling into either despair or denial.