I don’t like to admit it, but a lot of my spiritual work over the past decade has been to shift my spiritual worldview – my fundamental conception of reality. I had to reconsider it to make sense of my experience.
When I started attending Quaker meeting, where I heard about the Inward Teacher/ Divine Guide and that “there is that of God in every person,” I realized that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore! These ideas required that I conceive of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit as within myself. But I couldn’t. My operating worldview was some amalgam of God being outside of me (usually located above my head) and a figment of religious imagination.
The writings of Walter Wink, a bible scholar and theologian, helped me. His book, Engaging the Powers, defined five different worldviews that helped me grapple with my orientation to reality.
He said that ancient people, including those who wrote and were written about in the Bible, believed that heaven was literally above the dome of the sky. They also believed that every earthly entity and event had a heavenly component. So, when human beings were engaged in a struggle on earth, there would be heavenly beings (i.e., God, the gods, angels, etc.) above them concurrently involved in the struggle.
Over the centuries, as people developed psychologically and ideas about the world changed, especially with the development and advances of science, different worldviews came to be. By the beginning of the 20th century, most people had spiritualistic, materialistic, or theological worldviews.
A spiritualistic worldview holds that heaven is good and earth is a necessary evil. People are seen as spiritual beings that are trapped in bodies that cause them to sin. Freedom from the body is seen as desirable (as matter was indifferent at best, but usually evil). This was the reason why people would hurt themselves (i.e., hair shirts, flagellation) to develop spiritually.
When science came along, which required observation and control for proof, it set the wheels in motion for people to question spiritual reality. It led to an “I need to see it to believe it” orientation. A materialistic worldview developed as a result. It contends that there is no spiritual reality – that only material and sensory experience is real.
Because religious people could not abide the materialistic worldview, and because theologians could not effectively argue against it, the theological worldview developed. This worldview suggests that the spiritual realm is not knowable by the senses. Science and religion came to apply to separate aspects of experience. Also, theology and religious people came to be seen as impractical, except perhaps when concerns about death, injustice or evil arose.
By the middle of the 20th century, due to scientific and theological developments, another worldview began to form. Like the ancient/biblical worldview, the integral worldview conceives of every entity as having a ‘heavenly’ and an ‘earthly’ component. Only now, the ‘heavenly’ aspect is within rather than above the ‘earthly’ aspect. This worldview conceives of spirituality as the inward nature of matter. The ‘heavenly’ in and of itself is unseen, but is manifested in and through matter.
The integral worldview helped me to understand spiritual insight and understand and experience God as within me. This worldview allows us to reclaim spiritual reality and integrate it into our understanding without distancing from scientific knowledge or the material world. If fact, it can help us to see the secular as sacred again.