Most people in North America and northern Europe, as well as many in a secularize China and Japan, are not religious, if “religious” is defined by regular participation in organized religious services. Everybody everywhere is, however, spiritual. By “spiritual,” I mean every human, including atheists, agnostics, and philosophical materialists of all sorts, hunger for purpose, meaning, and authenticity. We all seem to instinctively long for a connectedness to a greater Whole.
It is, of course, possible to ignore that instinctive longing. Many do so. Maybe most people, at least in the United States, do so. It’s easy to fill our hours with work, sports, family, entertainment, achievement, business, hobbies, stuff, or any one of a million other distractions. Some distractions are toxic – drug addiction, sex addiction, addiction to power or money – to name a few. Most distractions not only seem harmless, they are encouraged by society. Monks are generally viewed as rather esoteric.
But under the distractions, when all is still and quiet, the longing for the eternal creeps in. It may even force its way in during a funeral, a pandemic, an illness, a divorce, or a time of unemployment. Whether it’s the shock of seeing a loved one on a ventilator, or a softly creeping sadness at 2 AM, the hunger for spiritual authenticity is a gift. Spiritual hunger is the Monolith; it is Devil’s Tower. It is connected with the call of wild and the yearning for the sea. It is the distant Hymn of the Universe, the slow, deep whale-like music of the Spheres. It is wretched masses yearning to breathe free. It is a hunger and thirst for righteousness, man’s search for meaning, the heart-cry of every person who still has a soul. It is the need to love and be loved.
Something deep within all of us yearns for connectedness, authenticity, to be fully human and fully alive. Something within us instinctively needs meaning beyond what we produce. We need purpose beyond what we do. We are human beings, not human doings. At some level, we know we are not what we do, not what we own, and not what others (including parents) think of us.
We hear the distant call deep in our innermost beings, and the journey begins.
 An atheist believes there is no God or no gods. An agnostic admits to not knowing, and usually believes the divine, if it exists at all, is unknowable. A philosophic materialist is a person who believes that nothing exists in the universe other than matter and energy. From a philosophic point of view, materialism has nothing to do with consumerism, wealth, or stuff.  The Monolith and Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, were used respectively in the films, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind as objects that were irresistibly calling protagonists.  “We are not what we do, we are not what we have, we are not what others think of us. Coming home is claiming the truth. I am the beloved child of a loving creator.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen