Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pipe Smoking And The Spiritual Life

When I was in my early thirties I decided to smoke a pipe. I did it because I loved the aroma of pipe tobacco. I had often been in a gathering of people and the fragrance of carefully blended pipe tobacco would waft through the crowd and I thought it smelled wonderful. I went out and bought a beginner's pipe and some tobacco. I soon discovered, much to my dismay, that while smoking a pipe one could not smell the pleasing aroma. Whenever I smoked my pipe other people enjoyed it. Some even asked me to smoke just so they could enjoy the sweet smell. I, however, could never enjoy my own pipe smoking. I believe all of this is a metaphor for the spiritual life. When one is living a spiritual life, like smoking a pipe, you don't really enjoy your own spiritual qualities. Your holiness and goodness cannot really be perceived by yourself. Only other people can experience your holiness and goodness. A spiritual person may be aware they are living a spiritual life, like a pipe smoker is aware they are smoking, but they don't really enjoy the effects of their spiritual like as much as those around a pipe smoker enjoy the fragrance of pipe smoke. In spite of the fact that I didn't smell my own pipe smoke, I kept smoking for many years. I rarely smoke one of my pipes now for health reasons but I still have my entire collection of pipes. Some are quite valuable and others are real pieces of art. I do keep trying to live a spiritual life even though I don't always feel spiritual and I am not always aware of my own goodness. I also never feel holy. I do know, however, that there are people who think I am spiritual and good and maybe even a little holy. If this is their experience of me, like pleasing aromas are the experience of people around a pipe smoker, than I am happy and perhaps my purpose in life is being partially fulfilled. All goodness and holiness is a gift of God and not of our own doing. Living a spiritual life is really more of an openness to God's grace rather than doing things to achieve holiness through our own efforts. If smoking a pipe is a metaphor for living the spiritual life, I am not sure what smoking a cigar represents!

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