If you grew up in a world anything like mine. Devotion(s) were something you did – religiously – if you were religious! They were a practice that usually included reading scripture, praying, and reflecting; a discipline that ostensibly kept you connected to your beliefs; an outward demonstration designed to strengthen your inner commitment, your faith, your spiritual life.
All good, yes?
Well, not so much. (You knew this was coming, didn’t you?)
For me, devotions were a required or at least highly-recommended component of my religious life. And though they were, at times deeply meaningful, I would not often have described them with words like dedication, sacrifice, promise, love, or loyalty. A more consistent description would be duty. And because of such, they had a dark side: if I didn’t do them, if I wasn’t devoted, then I felt insufficient, less valuable, uncommitted, wobbly, not faith-full. In effect, devotion(s) were a to-do; not devotion itself.
Now, outside of any religious tradition, the word “devotion” still circles in my mind and heart. It’s like something I catch a glimpse of, just out of the corner of my eye, but when I turn to see it straight on and clearly, it’s disappeared or at least blurred.
What is clear and in undeniable focus is this: I do not want devotion that is dutiful. I want devotion that is desire-full.
And this is what brings me to the distinction between devotion and to-do’s…
I do not claim to have any definitive answers, but I do wonder if perhaps the difference between devotion and to-do’s is its origin, the place from which it comes, what compels it. Duty or Desire? Responsibility or Grace? Expansive or Restrictive? Required or Chosen?
What I long for is an experience of devotion that is not something I “do,” but something I believe, trust, have faith in, hope for – all of which is profoundly sacred and spiritual.
Maybe, instead of pursuing spirituality or an experience of the sacred through discipline and to-do’s, it is devotion (unbidden and desired) that pursues us; that ushers in the spiritual and sacred itself.
When I approach the sacred or spirituality from a perspective of attainment (as though I can somehow “arrive”), I am immediately aware of to-do’s. The practices, beliefs, and right ways of being. The rules, doctrine, and dogma – even in the very best of ways. Exactly what has been prescribed to help me get there, get that, be that.
But when I let the sacred approach me, when I trust that it is ever-present, omniscient really, and hold fast to my desire for such in the most tender and cherished of ways, devotion will *just* appear, stay, deepen, and reside. And as I named last week, none of this has to be is hard; instead, very, very easy…(which means no to-do’s are needed at all.)
“Devotion is a place where you do not exist; life just flows through you as a certain sweetness and beauty.”
These words my Jaggi Vasudev sound about a million times better than duty or responsibility. They sound infinitely closer to what it means to be connected to and impacted by the sacred. And they perfectly acknowledge that we are spiritual with nothing (not even to-do’s) required of us for this to be true.
What if devotion is like breathing? A natural and autonomic response to the sacred, to the spiritual, which is within us, around us, ever-present, and always in pursuit.
No effort required. No discipline needed. And certainly no to-do’s. Just desire.
- What am I supposed to DO in order to experience devotion?
- What kind of devotion is required in order to more deeply engage with the sacred?
- How can I hope to strengthen my spiritual life through devotion if it’s something that pursues me?
These are the questions I begin asking at rapid speed in the face of uncertainty, to be sure! Inherent within them is my deeply-ingrained proclivity for to-do’s. They show how deeply committed I am to doing, mastering, taking the right actions, knowing exact ways to move forward, focusing all my energy on efforts that promise to help me grow and deepen.
To-do’s. They comfort me and plague me at the very same time.
But what I want, truly-deeply-madly is devotion. And that means that I need a different route, an undoing of what I’m familiar with, and yes, an allowing for uncertainty.
I know: deep breath.
At the start of this post I said this: we are far more clear about to-do’s, far less so about devotion.
It seems to me that this is the point:
A devotion bound in certainty (and managed or attained through to-do’s) is not devotion at all. It’s the not-knowing, the mystery, the letting go, the wonder, the questions, and yes, the doubts that invite devotion (and the sacred) into our midst in the most intimate and personal and love-filled of ways.
May it be so.
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