Instead of going off to a monastery, you can bring the monastery to the secular society. In common areas in our towns and cities we could install more and better places for contemplation, indications that we are a community and images that evoke spiritual values. We could be more like monks and less like secularists, more like thoughtful men and women who make all of life sacred and less like unconscious citizens who have nothing more at their disposal than ego and instinct.
In a quiet neighborhood in Houston, Texas, the Rothko Chapel sits on a small open space with a quiet pond and a piece of sculpture. On most days, the chapel is a place of reflection in an active city. The architecture, furnishings, and, of course, the large dark paintings of Mark Rothko create a special atmosphere for reflection. If you look at the schedule of events and the books that are available in the library, you’ll see that every spiritual tradition imaginable is represented.
This is a rare resource for those of us trying to maintain a religion of our own. It’s current with where religion is in life today. It’s based on art, it offers a suitable place for reflection, it draws on all the traditions equally and positively, and it’s located in the midst of city life. Beyond that, it’s welcoming, friendly, and intelligent. It’s effective in creating local community experiences and in sustaining a feeling for world community. All of our cities would benefit from many of these “chapels” to sustain the personal religion of their citizens.
I’ve called this new approach “a religion of one’s own,” but as you pursue your own religion, immediately you begin to see connections with the whole of life and with community, defined both in the most local of ways and with all beings in the cosmos, including those we have yet to meet up with. This religion need not be narcissistic and limited.
What I am envisioning is a return to a sacred environment and a sacred sense of self. A divided world has rendered secularity a source of insanity and aggression, and it has made religion vapid and unhelpful or fanatic and dangerous. So this new kind of religion reinstates both secularity and sacredness, one deepening the other in a fruitful tandem. We need to enjoy secular life, and we need a sense of the sacred for depth of sensitivity and meaning.
Thomas Moore has been a monk, a musician, a professor, and, for the past 30 years, a psychotherapist practicing archetypal therapy with a spiritual perspective. His latest book is A Religion of One’s Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World.