From early in the Christian Church’s history there have been individuals ill-at ease in their human reality and who have assumed that the Divine is pleased by our abuse of the reality given to us! It’s almost as if we accidentally got off the Cosmic Bus in the wrong town and need to not enjoy where we find ourselves! One can read hagiographies which extol this approach of little sleep, little food and no enjoyment in any form! The first monastery that I entered in 1971 belonged to a Roman Catholic Trappist order in which its members did not eat meat, used a sign-language instead of speaking and enforced a strict separation of its members from contact with the world outside of the monastery. After living that way for 2 years I came to the conclusion that I wanted to live my monastic life in a more human and humane way. In doing so I would just have to take my chances regarding God’s approval or disapproval!
In our Orthodox tradition an Elder may give a Disciple a personal rule of prayer to follow as well as an “obedience” meant to foster spiritual growth in the Disciple. I recently heard of an expression of spiritual asceticism which not only filled me with horror but also brought to mind our misunderstanding about what being a human being is about. An Elder I know gave one of his Disciples the “Podvig of Filth.” The Disciple could not bathe, cut his hair or his nails. By the time his family rescued him the Disciples toenails were cutting into the soles of his feet! When I heard of this I thought, “How could God possibly be pleased by our abuse of the reality He thought was good?”
Some people pit being human against being spiritual. I have found it more helpful to view our human reality as a bud which as we grow in spirituality opens, grows and becomes the fruit that was meant to be. The key to its ripening is that it’s meant to be enjoyed by others! The way it ripens is within the context of community. There is a passage from Valerio Valeri’s book “Kingship and Sacrifice” speaking about a Hawaiian understanding which I feel relates to this. “In no case is it sufficient for the individual merely to ask pardon from the one he has offended; a sacrifice to their common deity or deities is required. With the deity’s acceptance of the offering the disorder comes to an end. Yet, this sacrificial rite is also a rite of communion among all the members of the social network in which offender and offended alike participate, the deity’s acceptance is inseparable from that of the community.”
The point is that our spiritual life ripens within the context of communal relationships and any break or abuse of those relationships must be repaired. Communion with one another must be restored in order for our spiritual life to continue its growth. Abused, damaged, rotten fruit is of no use to anyone!