Which came first, spirituality or religion? It seems to me most likely that religion grew out of humanity’s innate spirituality just as science grows out of our curiosity. Religion and science are both attempts to explain the universe around us and figure out how to survive in it. Science may seem to ignore spirituality in favor of facts derived from replicable research, but the scientific impulse to stretch the mind beyond the known could be considered a form of spirituality too.
Religion isn’t specifically mentioned in our topic here, but it inevitably crops up in our discussions, and really, if it weren’t for the way some of the currently dominant religions class sex as a major sin, we wouldn’t have to be asking whether sexuality meshes or clashes with spirituality at all. Why shouldn’t they mesh? Why shouldn’t spirituality encompass all of human experience, especially its heights of sensory awareness?
Of course it’s all a matter of definition, and I’m not going to claim to either know for a fact or take on faith an exact definition of spirituality, or religion, or even sexuality. I know I should try to define, or at least to explain, what I mean by “innate spirituality,” but the best I can do is to claim to be an agnostic when it comes to the complexities of the human mind. However much we think we’ve discovered, there’s always more we don’t know. For whatever reason, though, humans seem to need spirituality, whether they see it as coming from a supremely powerful source outside themselves or from higher levels of their own consciousness.
Mind, consciousness, whatever we call them, or whether we think of them as a single entity, have dimensions we can’t fully know. Just as a minor example, as storytellers, haven’t we all been surprised at the thoughts that percolate to the surface of our minds when we’re writing? Things that we hadn’t realized we knew, or could imagine? (Don’t tell me I’m the only one!)
And, as writers, don’t we try to produce both mental and physical reactions in our readers? Spirituality and sexuality, or mind/spirit and any of the physical senses, are inextricably bound together. Just as music, something we perceive with the physical senses, can sometimes trigger spirituality, so can sex in its most intense moments. Why should they always be separate? Yes, of course spirituality and sexuality—or, really, any flavor of sensuality—can mesh.
Going a bit off-topic here, when I got to pondering on spirituality I remembered my mother’s funeral last year, and working with the minister of the very progressive church I grew up in to help him know more about her, since she’d been in decline for the several years he’d been with the church. I told him that she didn’t talk about religion much—I think she was in it for the music and the sense of community more than for any dogma—but that one of her favorite poems was “The Soldier” by WWI British poet Rupert Brooke. The “some corner of a foreign field” phrase is the best-known part, but the lines that struck me were in the second verse:
"And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her days;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.”
Well. Setting aside the England part, agnostic as I am, I’d like to think that in some unknowable, inconceivable sense, all of our lives, our memories, our consciousnesses, can be pulses “in the eternal mind”. Even those areas of our experience involving sexuality in its most spiritual manifestations.