Today, with religion being cloistered behind closed doors it seems other instances of spiritual experience are being pushed out of everyday life as well. Secular society tells us there is not room for the divine in the mundane. One Episcopal parish is fighting this mutually exclusive arrangement through what they call, ‘God stories.’ These stories are instances where one feels or experiences something that acts as evidence of the divine and its presence in daily life. It could be something in nature, the frank words of a child, or a perfectly timed coincidence. It could be small or big like a miracle. At the end of the weekly worship service when general announcements are made, the reverend asks if anyone has any God stories to share. Members of the congregation can stand and use this opportunity to tell their God story aloud. Alternatively, stories can be posted on a designated board in the parish hall. This medium includes many photographs to illustrate the personal narratives. For example, one such photo is a flower that managed to grow and bloom through a crack in the pavement. It isn’t what most people would call a miracle, but for someone it held significance and brought a spark of divinity into ordinary life.
The question is not whether such instances of divine presence and / or action are ‘correct’; but rather, why we look for them at all. Why do we search for the divine in the mundane? Why do we search for evidence of a greater power not only through miracles, but in little things easily explained away? One obvious reason is that for individuals, life and faith do not exist in separate spheres. As much as secularism tries to convince us otherwise, religion and spiritual beliefs affect one’s outlook and choices in all facets of life. How one lives is an expression of faith and further confirms one’s religious affiliations and spiritual disciplines. Life and belief are not separate. Nor is it a one sided relationship. Religious belief affects life and life affects our beliefs. Life experiences can make one question their faith and even lead to conversion or alternation. The faithful know this, and feel this push to let their worlds mingle.
But the structure of society prevents this. The segregation promoted by secularism is exacerbated today by hyper sensitivity and political correctness. I believe the persistent searching illustrated by God stories is partly backlash, or at least resistance, to the staunch segregation of areas of life today. As secularism strives to create definite and separate boundaries, the faithful aim to diminish these boundaries. As secularism tries to make religion and spirituality private matters, the faithful strive to bring their beliefs and practices into the public arena.
The role of scientific reason has perhaps made people search out divine presence more. Today everything is explained away with science which is firmly placed in the secular sphere. The natural world is extraordinary and deserves the same awe and wonder as the supernatural. But its secular category gives the natural world a false sense of banality. The consistent insistence that ordinary life is mundane, results in a hyper sensitivity to anything that could be regarded as supernatural or divine.
While I believe these forms of resistance and the push to live more holistically are at the forefront of why people continue to search for the divine in the mundane, I wonder what kind of natural aptitude or psychological need humans have for such experiences of the divine? I would like to look into this area further as well as the consequences of secularism. How are these needs met through purely secular means? And what happens if these needs are not met? What happens when a flower is just a flower rather than a symbol of perseverance, a spot of unexpected beauty or a reminder of something bigger than ourselves?