Last summer I offered myself to work as a volunteer with an international religious youth organization that has its headquarters in my home town. Till then, I had not given much thought to my spiritual life. They were preparing for their Annual Youth Camp that attracts participants from across the globe, and they needed as many volunteers as there could be to aid in the preparations. They placed adverts for this in print media and their posters could be seen almost everywhere, giving the impression of what a great and exciting event it was going to be. Being the adventurous person that I am, It was my desire to miss out on such an opportunity, so I made sure that besides joining as a volunteer, I also registered as a participant. What I did not know is that my experiences there were going to give me an awakening to reflect deeper on what spiritual life really entails.
The organization’s offices are housed within the building that is also its mother church. I went there to purely offer my services, so I had no intention of subscribing to their faith or doctrine. However, things took a new turn when it was announced that no matter one’s home’s nearness to the premises we were all to be accommodated there for the entire period we would be volunteering. I did not really mind such a development. I assumed they just wanted to ensure we were comfortable and free from the inconveniences that would come along with having to commute daily. Perhaps, that was among the reasons, but I was to learn later that such a measure was meant to ensure we remained as pure as possible, since being confined there would “minimize contact and exposure to the evil and corrupt world”. These words were spoken by one of the young pastors whom I befriended as time went by.
Each one of us was assigned a room and given a copy of the rules and regulations that would be governing our conduct during our stay. I quickly perused through and understood that, among other things, male and female volunteers were not allowed to mix in whatever circumstances. No hugs were allowed; only handshakes. Even during church services, the different sexes were to occupy separate columns. No music was allowed within the compound. Use of communication gadgets was to be minimized as much as possible. I was completely baffled, but decided to give myself time to learn and understand. I did not ask questions, at least not at that time.
I gradually adjusted to the routine, and all was smooth in the beginning. My first job as a volunteer was to manually draw a map of the place. I was assigned a pastor to act as my guide and supervisor. He was a young, friendly guy who was in his final year in a theology school. He never spoke much but seemed to know pretty much, even outside religious circles. His name was Nick, and we became friends. I generally liked him, and we spent most of our time together as it were. I was allocated some little working space in the pastors’ office and made it my habit to be there early enough each day for my task. It was in this office that an incident which marked the beginning of my spiritual enlightenment occurred, for I had not given it much thought before.
It was early one morning, being lonely in the office working on my task, when another pastor stormed in and began bombarding me with questions He sought to know what an ordinary person like me was doing in the pastors’ office. He asked why I could not find another working space elsewhere. He clearly seemed furious, something I could tell from the tone of his voice. I knew it was more serious than I thought when he went ahead and kicked my drawing tools and ordered me out. Immediately, I called Nick and informed him what had happened. He told me he had left the compound but would return soon. I informed him I was leaving, something he objected to. He insisted I wait for him; indeed he was there in no time. He realized how serious I was about quitting because I told him I did not even need to get my stuff from the dormitory. He plainly told me I could not just leave no matter how much I felt hurt. He suggested we take a walk. We had a lengthy conversation that made me have a different perspective of life, a spiritual one.
Nick began by expressing his remorsefulness about what had happened. He pleaded with me to understand that it was possible the other pastor was just having a bad day. He illustrated that maybe I would have just done the same if I were in his shoes, and that quitting was not the best thing to do. He went on to say,”Everything happens for a reason. Nothing happens by accident. All that happens was just meant to be, with or without you. This world is more spiritual than it is material or physical, every small bit of it. You will find greater joy and peace living in this world if you find a spiritual interpretation and connection to everything that happens to you or around you. One does not have to be religious in order to do this. It was planned that you come here as a volunteer long before you were born, and this has happened today so you may learn.” These words left me flummoxed. Numerous questions crisscrossed my mind that moment as I pondered over what Nick had uttered to me. We later went back after reconsidering my position of quitting.
From that moment onwards, I started searching my life, trying to interpret every aspect of it through the spiritual lens. But what would spirituality then entail? Is it the same as religion? No. Nick had said I did not have to be religious to be spiritual. How could this be possible? A deeper reflection gave me further insight into the moral qualities that are shaped out of man’s urges, desires, and faculties that are consciously controlled and brought into action on proper occasions and at a convenient time. They then help him in his desire to seek purification of self, enabling him to act with complete devotion and serenity in accordance with the Divine will. This way, spiritual conditions are yielded. These conditions further give rise to moral principles. That is why a person who denies the existence of God can still be humble, kind, forgiving and generally peace-loving. So Nick was right. A person who has no acquaintance with salvation can still possess spiritual values.
My desire to understand spirituality in my life led me on a path I can only label as a search for the sacred. I could connect everything in my life to the spiritual world; from the moment I gave that first cry when I was born to the time I met Nick. I interpreted the first cry to symbolize the many problems in this world. Every event in my entire life had a whole new meaning. I understood the environment of the compound where I was volunteering and realized that, in as much as their conduct, practices and beliefs were dictated by doctrine, everything about them was spiritual.
The three months that followed gave me a chance to learn more. My interaction with volunteers of different faiths, even atheists, greatly boosted my understanding of spirituality in general. I was not surprised when I started attending their services. Nick suggested I enlist for their mentorship programs where I would be assigned a spiritual leader. However, I declined for I decided that I did not really understand enough about the necessity of spirituality. Besides, the summer vacation would soon be over, and I was expected to travel to college. Such a program would be disrupted early enough before it even kicked off. All in all, I did not know it would end up there when I offered to volunteer. As Nick had said, everything happens for a reason. What a spiritual interpretation!