Avoiding the pitfall of piety

Image: Sandis Helvigs

I write this post as a warning to those of us on this path of personal/spiritual growth (including myself)…

Spiritual immersion can lead to piety. As ‘high and mighty’ as the pious emotion feels, it’s nothing but a trick of the ego that’s extremely limiting.

Piety is an ego-driven reaction. It’s a response to an inner insecurity of imperfection. It projects this imperfection onto others and leaves us as ‘perfect spiritual beacons of light’ — legends, if you will, in our own minds.

Piety tells us the point of spirituality is to never have a bad day so we can show all lesser beings how to do the same thing. It sets up immense blind spots in things we fail to look at out of arrogance.

As I continue my theological studies, I see a tendency for spiritual writers to ‘sell’ a life of imperfection and continual bliss and happiness. And in a way, I just don’t know if that’s healthy.

In my work, my goal is to stay true to the following message…

The purpose of spirituality is not to avoid the bad days. Spirituality is a power tool to take with us into the bad days.

Some moments, I stress that my wife is going to leave me.
Some moments, I worry my daughter is going to grow up to resent me.
Some moments, I feel like a worthless piece of trash. 
Some moments, I miss my mom and dad. 
Some moments, I wish I had more money.
Some moments, I get scared about getting old. 
Some moments, I feel like cancer is closing in on all of us.
Some moments, I feel like a fraud (like right now, writing this).

These are moments... Sometimes they turn into hours. Or days. Or seasons. And I know they’ll pass. But that doesn’t make them any less real when I’m in the midst of them.

I don’t seek them out, but they happen. Less and less, it seems, but they certainly don’t ever entirely go away.

When I’m in these moments, I don’t see myself as un-spiritual. 
Not anymore.

I see it as perfect. 
Perfectly human.

No need to rush out of the mud. 
I’m in it. 
Now what?

Right here is where I meet Spirit. 
Right here is where I high-five the Divine and bring it into the dance. 
Right here is where my Spiritual work lies. 
Right here is where I get to live.

The aim of life, I’ve found, is not to be permanently happy. 
That’s like chasing a ghost — a disappointing exercise, no doubt.

The aim of spirituality is not to run from the human. It’s to arc weld it into the Divine, time and time again.

Life provides us with ample opportunities to do this.

I don’t see wholeness or fulfillment to be a zoned-out/blissed-up perma-grin or a holier-than-thou affect. I don’t want to float through life in a state of perpetual zen-numbness.

I want to live. 
And hurt. 
And feel. 
And miss. 
And love. 
And fear. 
And defy. 
And doubt.
And rage. 
And be in the flow.
And out of it.
And back in it again.

I want to see God, not as saving me from the trials and tribulations of life, but as joining me in them.

This is how we stay away from piety.

No blind spots live in truth.


[Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people transform their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way. To subscribe via email to his updates and exclusive content, click here.]