Sometimes I encounter writers and speakers who describe us as human beings on a spiritual journey. I think this is true, and have at times used the same language myself. But I think it is equally true that we are spiritual beings on a human journey. Both journeys are crucial and each should complement the other. Any religion or spirituality that seeks to make us less than, more than, or other than human is dangerous. Spirituality can and should be in the service of becoming more deeply human. This might surprise you. After all, the human and spiritual journeys are often presented as diametrically opposed to each other and so it is quite understandable if you have tended to think of the spiritual journey as helping you move beyond the limitations of humanity. Recently, sitting in the front row and looking puzzled and upset during a lecture I was giving on these things, a woman expressed her confusion when I paused for dialogue by saying, “I thought that the more spiritual we become the less human we would be. Isn’t being human a sign of spiritual failure? Isn’t that why we use being human as an excuse for failures in our best self and our highest way of being?”
Her question illustrates a common and serious misunderstanding of both spirituality and humanity. Humanity is not a disease that needs to be cured or a state of deficiency from which we need to escape. The spiritual journey is not intended to make us into angels, cherubim, seraphim, gods, or some other form of spiritual beings. It is intended to help us become all that we, as humans, can be. How tragic, therefore, that some suggest that the spiritual journey should head in precisely the opposite direction.
Spiritual paths and practices that distance us from what it means to be a human are not good for humans. Quite simply, they are hazardous to our well-being. Rather than make us vital and whole human beings, they leave us impoverished and diminished.