Finding Spirituality in the Great American Mess


More and more, I find the most authentic spiritual tradition for me is a good old American mess. Spirituality comes from the body and blood, so I asked myself what spirituality would be most authentic to me?

I am of German, English, and Scots-Irish descent as far as I know. Beyond that, gods only know. Somewhere in there all those people were kicked around by the Vikings. In addition, way back in the way back, those Romans really got around, and not all Romans were Romans, if you follow, so your guess is as good as mine. Finally, depending on how far back you want to go, we all pretty much came from everywhere, so where does this who-has-a-drop-of-what-blood thread end?

(If you haven’t seen the continental flag experiment, look it up. It is amazing.)

The best I feel I can do, the most authentic body and blood I have is American mutt-itude. I’m not sure exactly what that means yet, or what it should look like, but, as an American, it seems hodgepodge is my most authentic identity.

For example, even though I am not Wiccan, I have always liked the Wiccan idea of the eight sabbats—the Wheel of the Year. I am well aware it is based loosely, (at best), on ye olde western European traditions, and that the ye olde traditions it is loosely, (at best), based on don’t even all come from Celtic practices. But why should that matter? It’s fun and pleasant and makes you take notice of what’s going on in nature. That’s enough.

If we are honest with ourselves and admit that most spiritual traditions are historically iffy, (at best), then why not embrace that openly? Why insist on a lineage that doesn’t exist? Why is provenance necessary? Why should one tradition be better than another simply because it is older?

It seems these questions are rarely, if ever, addressed. They should be.

I have long maintained that the tenets of every religion ever practiced at some point came out of someone’s ass. (Unless, of course, you believe religious traditions, rituals, myths, etc. came straight from the mouths of gods, in which case, I can’t help you.)

If we take the Someone’s Ass Theory as a given, we see pragmatism is really the watchword. Why do certain religions hang on for decades, centuries, millennia? Because they work. Favor is given by the gods, people feel the spiritual willies, magic happens, altered states are achieved.

It makes me think of The New Colossus engraved on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty—a poem that never fails to move me, and one which every American would do well to remember, especially now when so many anti-immigration nuts abound in the name of patriotism.

Lady Liberty proclaims:

“…Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!“

In spiritual terms, I take this to represent the legacy of taking ancient and not-so-ancient tatters of various open practices brought here, honoring them, and quilting them together. I take it to mean honoring and embracing the patches of those tatters that have already been created when immigrant cultures met and commingled in the past. I take it to mean listening with respect and an open mind to the wisdom that those of different backgrounds choose to teach and share. I take it to mean a wholehearted welcoming of all open workings that have yet to press through the “golden door”.

I am blessed and lucky to live in such a heterogeneous land that grows more so with each passing day. This is the American legacy as it should be. This is the legacy of my body and blood. This is the sacred spirituality of mutt-itude that speaks most fervently to me.


About M. Ashley

Essayist and poet, my work has been rejected by some of the finest journals in America. Fortunately, it also gets accepted from time to time and has appeared in equally fine journals such as Word Riot, Inlandia, Brew City Magazine, and SageWoman among others.. In 2002, I was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize for Vanderbilt University. For no good reason, I possess an unnecessarily dark humor which is why being third generation California Inland Empirian delights me so. My gods are weird. I once received $350 for writing a smartassed essay on “why the wise use of water is important in my daily life”. I am undoubtedly the Greek god Hermes’ special snowflake. I’m pretty sure I got into college via a series of fortuitous clerical errors. When I had to grow up and get a real job, I decided against it and stayed a writer. I have worked many odd—and I mean odd—jobs to support my habit: Commercial writer for country music hopefuls, resume massager, WalMart fitting room attendant and switchboard operator, telephone psychic.
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