The spiritually alive of no fixed address

I once read in an article in 'The Church Times' the expression, "the spiritually alive of no fixed address" and was startled because I had, or so I thought, invented this phrase myself to describe those that were compellingly concerned with the sacred and the spiritual life but did not belong to any specific religious tradition.

It was I thought a growing category and I had used it, in part, in reference to the men and women I was working with in prison (through the Prison Phoenix Trust) as they explored new patterns of living opened up to them by some form of spiritual practice (usually meditation and/or yoga).

Until I suddenly realised, noticing the author, that there was a wholly credible route from me to him!

I was reminded of this reading Whitley Strieber and Jeffrey Kripal's "The Super Natural: A New Vision of the Unexplained" (that requires a blog post of its own) because there Kripal articulates (in crystallised form), three basic markers that seek to distinguish the religious from the spiritual.

The first is where do you locate religious authority is it outside, resting in a scriptural authority or institution (religion) or inside with the authority emerging from within the self (and I would add through an attention to the phenomenology of one's own experience).

The second would be on the nature of revelation is it singular-perfect (religion) or multiple-partial (spiritual). Are the words of the text a recitation of God or their messenger or an experiment after knowing that captures an aspect of the truth?

The third is the temporal locus of full revelation whether it is in the past, resting on a sacred text or in the textures of a particular life (religion) or is it in the future. "The spiritual but not religious might appreciate multiple past revelations, but they do not consider any of them absolute in the present and fuller revelations may appear in the future."

I thought it an excellent matrix of discrimination, with reservation.

I found myself walking to the office (distracting myself from contemplating the fallout of the UK's EU referendum) and applying the matrix to George Fox, the founder of the Quakers.

Famously Fox was bedevilled by the various sects claims to hold an exclusive interpretation of the Bible: who to believe? Until turning from them all, he recognised that even now, here and now, in his inner light, there was one, namely Jesus Christ, who spoke directly into his self and to his condition. This was the litmus test of spirituality. Does the inner light communicate with me, here and now, for only through such communion can the Bible be properly scrutinised and assimilated; and, critically its interpretation is open ended, being always enriched by the careful, consensual witness of a community of practitioners, attuning singly and as a community to the light. A light always refracted through the prism of difference in a community as well as uniformity.

It is here I enter my first reservation because the source of authority is the self yet it is a self (in the Society of Friends) that is radically shared with, and tested against, the wisdom of equals. If 'the self' alone is the authority, it can so easily fall prey to illusion and narcissism. The Friends, imperfectly, have pioneered a way of faithfully allowing for individual discrimination while testing its spirits against a wider whole, without usually falling prey to an institutionalisation of that testing (as binding rules).

My second is, of course, to note that full revelation is in some sense always now, here, in the present, in the presence. The challenge is that we see through a glass darkly but the dark may clear, here, now and always, such that we behold the world in a grain of sand and eternity in this hour. We see ourselves as dually held in the light and refracted in a particular world.


  1. In pointing to communal discernment, you highlight the essence of the Quaker way, albeit something of which many new seekers within Quakerism take time to find awareness.


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