Analogy of the spiritual life

What is the alternative to “religion?” If it is so bad, what are we to do instead to find nourishment for the spiritual side of us? To answer this question, I will tell a story.

I find myself in a classroom with a teacher and the class is about a person – her name is Melissa. Luckily for us, she has 66 biographies out on her, so we have plenty of material to flesh out who she is. The teacher is a smart guy with good insight into what she likes and what she dosen’t like. She loves deep conversations, values close relationships, and loves to talk and think about the future. According to the biographies, she is very beautiful and full of life and has a passion for living and a joy that is pervasive in whatever group she finds herself in. She is also available to email if you want to. She’s very busy though, so she might not answer.

After the class is over, we all walk out thinking about how neat the subject is. Some students start talking in the hallway about how the teacher may have made some logical leaps in thinking that Melissa likes long stem roses rather than short stem ones. This is all based on a poem where she is portrayed as liking roses, so it’s hard to determine which ones she likes, but the teacher said that because she lived in a temperate climate and in a society that was fairly wealthy, so she must have liked long stem ones. These same students begin to think that the teacher doesn’t have his facts straight, and they decide to get together sometimes and study more about how neat Melissa is. After all, they all love facts about Melissa — its a really interesting subject.

However, everyone has jobs and other concerns, so they can only meet every once an a while. When they met, they lively discuss all the latest theories on Melissa – for there are many besides which type of rose she likes. There is also what kind of shoe she likes. This one is really hard and will require a close anthropological study of the culture she lives in and the surrounding cultures that may have influenced that one. And there also some “un-official” biographies besides the official 66, and those have some pretty wild stuff in them too. And there is this new theory that if you read every 200th letter in every book, you will get a hidden message about something Melissa might do in the future! Wow! This opens the door to more cool codes that can be found! Who knows what some smart guy might be able to find out about Melissa that’s been hidden all this time! The night is filled with excitement and laughter and the sharing of deep insights and hard-found truths about Melissa. New books interpreting the 66 official books are added to this groups library. In the end, each person goes home, and lives out their daily lives, consumed with its many concerns and we rarely stop to think about her. Some of us really like the subject, and treat it like a hobby of sorts, collecting books on her and memmorable quotes about her and by her.
Then one day, I met Melissa.

She walked up to me and sat down, and started talking to me. She was nervous at first, and I was downright terrified. She was beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful. Her nervous smile, her beautiful eyes, the musical sound of her voice and her laughter fell down upon me like a spell. I had never heard a voice like her’s before. It was full of warmth and curiosity, no — more like fascination — about me – she for some reason was interested in me, in what I thought. So much spoke though her voice and through her eyes — she was full of passion and kindness, and intelligence, and life. I could not believe that you could tell so much about a person through their eyes or simply by hearing their voice. I was shaking all over. I pretended to be cold. My hands were clammy and wet and I could not even believe that this was happening. Her hair was too beautiful for words — I was just facinated by how it fell down over her head and how it sat on her shoulders. The way it blew when the wind gently touched it, returning once again to rest in a more perfect place. And her scent – it was a light fragrence that reminded me of roses, but struck me like a summer night or watching the sun rise in the morning along the coast of the ocean. It carried with it a quiet gentle sense of mystery and life and peace, but at the same time a passion untamed and unvieled like the thundering of the ocean waves. As our conversation drew to a close, she rose to leave, and her hand glanced off my leg, but its momentary warmth and contact I somehow continued to feel for hours later. All my senses had been drenched in her. Each sense recieved something more than just what is was suppose to – as if somehow they carried with them some intangable, spiritual part of her that would forever after live within my heart.

I rose up as she turned to go – we agreed to get together sometime for coffee, and we exchanged emails. As she walked away I stood there, amazed. I was dumbfounded. I was reluctant to leave — this was suddenly a sacred place. Time stood still here — the wind blew and the scent on the breeze was pregnant with life and mystery like I have never known in any other place. This whole area was saturated with her spirit – the colors were more alive here, the paint on the bulidings somehow more blue, the flowers around somehow brighter. But no thing was saturated more then I. I was now different. Whatever I was before, I couldn’t even remember – my life was a colorless shadow up until this moment.

We met many more times after that. We would talk on the phone deep into the night, but it wasn’t enough – I simply wanted to be in her presence. If I couldn’t, I simply wanted to think of her, of her voice, of her scent, of her life, of her beauty, of her laugh. Everytime there was a pause in conversation at work or with friends, my mind turned to her. The touch of her hand in mine, the smell of her hair, and the thousand other things about her were my constant companions more powerful then just memories, but as if part of her spirit was with me. What part of reality can I relate to this? I find myself prone to mystical language simply to explain something that I just can’t understand. Words and reality fail me — she is real, she is true, she is alive, and I am undone.
I don’t attend the study sessions on Melissa anymore, somehow they just don’t do it for me. My notes from my classes sit on my desk collecting dust. My 66 books sit there too — I often read them to get to know her better, but I am often confused by them. Thankfully, it dosen’t matter because I just ask her to explain them. She’s very reasonable and she’s always touched by my desire to know her better. Most of what I read in them I find by simply living life with her anyway. I like reading about her, and I LOVE talking to others about her, and even talking with her, but most of all, I enjoy the intimacy with her, in every form it takes, often in a place where words can’t be found, but our spirits delight and are filled with each other to their fullest measure and we are saturated. She is mine and I am hers as long as we both live. I will never understand her fully, she is far too complex and mysterious, but she is my best friend, and I will spend the rest of my life with her, and each new day I will learn more and more about her becuase I love her.

Melissa really is my wife, and this story is true about us (except for the books and classes and study groups on her of course), but I can think of no better way to explain the spiritual life then through the analogy of the relationship I have with her. My wife and her love for me is the greatest living mythical representation of God I know of.


    2 Responses to “Analogy of the spiritual life”

    1. John Remy

      Jonathan, thank you for sharing this beautiful post. What a great allegory of the mystical experience–the difference between talking about the divine and actually encountering it. And it seems entirely appropriate to me (and well within the mystical tradition) for this to be a love story.

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    2. Reg

      I went to a funeral recently that was officiated by a female Sufi. Before she started (the deceased was Tibetan Buddhist), she explained her spiritual background. After than, whenever she prayed or led us in prayer, she never said “God” or “you” or any personal pronoun. She said “beloved”. Not only was it a beautiful way to think about the Divine, it was a beautiful way to think about a death: sending someone back to the Beloved. I can think of no better analogy.

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