The Spirituality of the Ladies Crawley

Ah, Downton Abbey. A new obsession enabled by PBS.

And, if Ronald Rolheiser is right about spirituality being about what we do with our desire (see “About”, re this WordPress blog) then, I am beginning to wonder about some of the characters’ desires…specifically, our young Crawley Ladies: Mary, Edith and Sybil. Or, metaphorically speaking (and perhaps somewhat simply put): Attention, Revenge and Service.

Lady Mary wants a man. She will toy with others – potential suitors, and her sister, Edith – in service to that desire.

Lady Edith lost true love, un-done by Lady Mary. She is most resentful.

Their dynamic is poisoned by dissatisfaction, competition, suspect motives, and continual re-wounding.

Lady Mary turns ever more toward manipulation, alienating any true feeling. Lady Edith nurses her resentment into revenge (for those not up-do-date, I will not divulge. But, please watch til the end of Episode 3).

For me, this is a classic situation, crying out for some spiritual solutions, a re-direction of energy and desire. Where is the soul-searching? Admitting their “stuff”, sweeping their own sides of the street, and making amends?

Lady Sybil, on the other had, embodies what I think healthy spirituality can look like, at it’s best: service to others. Moving outside oneself. Accompanying another on their journey. Even if it is to a new job as a typist, a situation perhaps considered far below Lady Sybil’s station, and less desirable than a secure position in as grand a household as Downton Abbey. But, it’s not Lady Sybil’s path, and nor does that matter to her…it’s Gwen’s, the under housemaid.

“There are many paths to the mountaintop” said Confucius. And I believe that we can help each other climb. Or, we can bring each other down.

So, the daily decision…the true Lady (Sybil) or the tigers (Mary and Edith)?

About Soul Intention

"Spirituality is, ultimately, about what we do with...desire. What we do with our longings, both in terms of handling the pain and the hope they bring us, that is our spirituality." from The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser. Paraphrasing what Gerald May has said, in his book Will and Spirit, spirituality is our experience and interpretation of our relationship with the Sacred. The intent of this blog is to explore for myself, and to invite others to explore with me, just what is it we do with our desire? What is our spirituality? Mine has been shaped by many my formative years, by the Roman Catholic church. In the last decade, by the 12 steps. Most recently, by the Episcopal Church. And, always, always, by the sense that Nature helped to reveal the Great Mystery, of which we are all a part. So, my spirituality includes concrete practices, like the Steps, as well as probing more philosophical matters. I was certified, in January 2011, as a Spiritual Director by the Haden Institute. During those 21 months of study, which included a broad range of topics from Celtic Spirituality, to the Christian Mystics, to Jungian Depth psychology, I was given the space and time to ponder my own spiritual journey, hear about others' paths, and benefit from participation in an intentional community. My hope is that this blog can engender a similar conversation. Peace, Paul
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3 Responses to The Spirituality of the Ladies Crawley

  1. You raise important questions here, for our examined and unexamined lives. If spirituality is about our longings and our desires, then it’s not necessarily about our relationship with a divinity. Rather it seems that there is perhaps positive spirituality (one that turns outward to service, for example, or at least does not harm us and others) and negative spirituality (one that turns inward, is perhaps stingy, unrelenting, punishing). The goal then is not the denial of desire but the (re-)interpretation of desire, so that desire is aligned with the search for something positive (however that might be defined).

    Where do we locate the criteria for judging spiritual practice, i.e., how do we say whether our practice is positive or negative? Do we look to our sense of happiness or fulfillment (which may be seriously misguided), do we look at the effects it has on our life (i.e., are we drinking too much, in debt over our heads, have any friends left) or do we look to the effects on the world of our search to satisfy our desire (which places the criteria outside ourselves)? Or all of these somehow?

    I am delighted that you have begun this blog, with every challenge it will bring for you and for us, your readers. I can’t wait to hear more, Paul. Thank you for opening this dialogue.

    • George,
      Thank you for your thoughtful observations and questions.
      Several things occur to me.
      I think spirituality is both inward and outward. For example, someone may experience an inward change and then manifest something new, out in the world, in whatever form that takes –service, writing, a new way of being. As Gandhi said, be the change you want to see. And, as we see in many traditions, a deepening of compassion, or loving-kindness, is a manifestation of the new inner life.

      I love your question about positive or negative spirituality. I would point to a lecture I heard by Don Bisson,, who summarized 10 characteristics of healthy personal spirituality, from his reading of Thomas Hart’s Hidden Spring .
      Among them, a belief that the purpose of life is to learn how to love;
      that God is in our actions, relationships, bodies and work; that God does not send us pain and suffering, but works with us, in them, for the good; that our images of God miss the mark and need to be shed; and that the spiritual life is a cyclical process of death and resurrection, not a one-time-only moment of salvation.

      You mentioned “our relationship with a divinity”. There are many ways to look at, attempt to define, and theorize about, God. And, then to attempt to get our arms, hearts and minds around what this relationship is like.
      I may take a stab at this in a later post, if I am that confident, or foolhardy!

  2. Paul,
    Great to hear your combination of wisdom and wit!
    I am riveted as well by the unfolding story of the three sisters at the Abbey and what their fate may be.
    Wonderful portrayals of the spectrum of dark to light.
    And how boring life would be if everyone actually took responsibility for their “stuff”, eh?
    Keep up the good commentary,

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