One of the ways I think about spiritual autobiography is in terms of spiritual formation: what has shaped the person I am, and what has shaped my spiritual life?
Only in the last couple of years have I come to realize how a particular aspect of my early life has shaped my spirituality: *Where* has shaped me.
I was born and raised in an agricultural area created from and surrounded by desert. (For inquiring minds, that would be Brawley, in Imperial County, California, about 100 miles east of San Diego and about 30 miles north of Mexico. It’s been in the news in the last year as part of a water dispute over the Colorado River involving several Western states and the federal government.)
From my upbringing, I learned that the world is a beautiful and harsh place. I learned the beauty of spareness and silence. I learned that there are certain realities of the world that must be accommodated, or there will be repercussions, up to and including death. I learned that human existence is created and made possible by hard work, cooperation, and large-scale manipulation of the natural world.
Wow! Ever since I moved to Pennsylvania, I’ve realized the desert still lives in me as an aesthetic. (Oh, those nasty, quaint country lanes in spring, overhung by that dense, brilliant green! You can’t see the bones of anything; you can’t see the contours of the landscape; you can’t see the sky!) New England countrysides are sometimes better, because the woods are less dense.
But I’m shocked to consider the other ways in which my early life shapes my response to the world in unseen ways. For instance, the desert, which is beautiful and loved as my native home, is utterly indifferent, indeed hostile, to human life. Is it any wonder that I don’t have any deep struggle to accept metaphors of the divine that are violent to human life or capricious? Do I actually believe in a God like that? Not really. (I think…. maybe I’ll find out by doing BYOT!) I certainly don’t *want* to believe in a God like that.
But it’s become clear that there may be things under the surface worth examining.
In a more traditional “spiritual autobiography” vein, here’s a link to something I’ve written to describe a particular part of my religious life. In the Religious Society of Friends, there was a traditional practice, now widely abandoned, of recognizing ministers and acknowledging elders. “Eldering” came to have the bad connotation of telling someone how they were doing something wrong. There’s a growing movement among liberal Friends to reclaim the role of elder as spiritual nurturer of ministers and of meeting communities.