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The Influences on Our Spiritual Principles

People participating in The Nearness have a wide variety of beliefs, practices, and backgrounds. We don’t ask anyone to believe in any dogma; instead, we welcome difference.

What is important is to be open to these principles:

  • There is something larger than us that we encounter in experiences of wonder and love;
  • This mystery calls on us to love others, ourselves, and the world around us. 
  • The goal of our spiritual lives is to answer this calling.

These spiritual principles owe a profound debt to the world’s great wisdom traditions that have come before us, as well as the many teachers, practitioners, and communities who have embodied that wisdom. We honor and celebrate them, and we hope to co-create an experience that lives into the very best of what they have passed on. 

Here, we share some of the most prominent influences on our spiritual principles. 

1. There is something larger than us that we encounter in experiences of wonder and love.

This first spiritual principle is indebted to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who teaches us to find the sacred in the everyday:

"This is one of the goals of the Jewish way of living: to experience commonplace deeds as spiritual adventures, to feel the hidden love and wisdom in all things.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel

On the spiritual significance of love, we’ve learned from the mystics like Marguerite Porete and theologians such as Howard Thurman:

"Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace.” - Howard Thurman
Howard Thurman
"Pure Love has only one intention, that she might always love faithfully without wishing for any reward" - Marguerite Porete
Marguerite Porete

2. This mystery calls on us to love others, ourselves, and the world around us.

The second principle is grounded in the insight and imagination of teachers like author and activist bell hooks, monk and writer Thich Nhat Hanh, and poet and priest John O’Donohue

"Many people want love to function like a drug, giving them an immediate and sustained high. They want to do nothing, just passively receive the good feeling." - bell hooks 
bell hooks
"Do we need to make a special effort to enjoy the beauty of the blue sky? Do we have to practice to be able to enjoy it? No, we just enjoy it. Each second, each minute of our lives can be like this.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh
"The wells in our psyche have become silted. Yet the refreshment that we crave is not outside. It is within our own depths. When these depths open and flow, we come into rhythm with the divine within us.” - John O’Donohue
John O'Donohue

3. The goal of our spiritual lives is to answer this calling.

How we answer this calling is a lifelong process - and can only be discovered in community. 

For co-founder Alec Gewirtz, he’s been deeply shaped by his time in the Religion department at Princeton University and at the interfaith L’Arche Daybreak community, where he lived as a caretaker and housemate to five people with intellectual disabilities. His relationships at L’Arche with housemates Mike, David, and Amanda were particularly formative. Some of the most influential figures in his life have been Bill Bradley, his parents, and his teachers from middle school through college, including Will McDonough and Sue Friborg.

For co-founder Casper ter Kuile, Harvard Divinity School was a profoundly formative community where he received a Masters of Divinity and served as a Ministry Innovation Fellow for five years. Mentors and teachers there included Stephanie Paulsell, Kerry Maloney, and Matthew Ichihashi Potts. Friends and collaborators from HDS that have deeply shaped Casper’s life include Angie Thurston, Vanessa Zoltan, and Sue Phillips.

Learn more about how Casper’s life has been shaped by community and spiritual influences in this talk at CreativeMornings on the theme of spirituality.