Spirituality without religion: An interview with Drew Jacob
image enhanced from original by Robb North
This week we talk to Drew Jacob, author of the blog Rogue Priest and the new ebook, Walk Like a God: How to Have Powerful Spiritual Moments With No Church and No Dogma.
Drew explicitly addresses his work to both theists and nontheists, so I thought it would be interesting to interview him and find out why.
B. T. Newberg: Let’s start off by diving right into what readers of Humanistic Paganism want to know: Why should they care about this book?
Drew Jacob: Walk Like a God is a field manual for cultivating spiritual experiences without faith in a supernatural higher power. Many humanists feel the natural human drive to seek out a sense of connection to the world around us. That can mean a search for a greater meaning, a search for personal identity, or simply a sense of wonder when experiencing the vastness of our world. In Walk Like a God, I set out to give people practical tools to create those moments of wonder and connection.
DJ: Gods may be completely within the psyche of the believer. Since I personally have had wonderful spiritual experiences with these beings, I find it practical to treat them as real beings. But I wouldn’t presume to say others must believe in them too. That seems backwards to me.
When I wrote Walk Like a God I knew my audience is non-religious. Many people want to pursue spirituality but have no desire to join a religion. So I made sure the book would be just as useful to non-theists as it would be to anyone else.
DJ: The Heroic Life means taking action, living for high ideals, and making a great impact on the world. The surest way to change lives is to start off changing your own life, and Walk Like a God is an arsenal for doing just that. A simple walk outdoors can be the basis of a spiritual practice that leads to a radical shift in perspective. Cultivating a sense of connection to nature leads to a deep and abiding affection for the world and the people in it.
DJ: Thoreau and Emerson led great lives, and their work is inspiring. But it’s not always practical. Walk Like a God presents basic and advanced strategies for pursuing spirituality. It gives clear guidance on how to do these things, how to find these experiences. Telling people to go live by a lake for a year isn’t very helpful. I made sure Walk Like a God has practices that anyone can do. Those basic practices build up to more adventurous ones. The goal through the whole book is to make it very clear how the reader can do this themselves. They can experience it firsthand.
BTN: And this is very much a do-it-yourself book. This may seem jarring to those who know you mainly from your role in reconstructing an authentic Celtic religion as faithful to history as possible, including building Temple of the River in northeast Minneapolis. I mean, Walk Like a God doesn’t mention the Celts once. What’s with the 180-degree turn?
DJ: There are a million books for people who want to follow the Celtic gods. There’s very little out there for people who want solid spiritual practices without religion. That’s really who I wrote Walk Like a God for. There is an amazing, transformative experience hidden within spirituality and you do not need to be faithful to discover it.
BTN: At one point you casually begin a sentence “When I lived with hunter-gatherers…” What’s up with that?
DJ: I spent part of a summer living at a primitivist camp in northern Wisconsin. Now I do a lot of forays into the wilderness with no modern gear. It’s dramatically changed my perspective on spirituality and what it takes for humans to be happy. Everyone talks about how nature is sacred, but what does that mean? It’s something you have to experience firsthand. Once you do, it’s amazing.
I really believe in seeking out challenges and expanding my horizons. Living in the wild is one way I’ve done that. Other people choose other ways. This idea of adventure as a spiritual practice is a core part of Walk Like a God. It teaches you how to take something big, something scary, and embark on it as an adventure. For most people that doesn’t mean living in the woods. It might mean quitting a job or having a child. The range of human adventure is as wide as human imagination. All of us have an adventure to lead.
DJ: I’d advise them to get a different book! Walk Like a God is really about using spirituality to transform your life. I expect that most people will take their walks in a city park. These practices can be done anywhere. No matter where you live, nature surrounds you. We spend much of our time trying to shut nature out. Learning to embrace it is a powerful way of shifting your consciousness.
BTN: The layout of the book is striking. The 86 pages, set in landscape orientation, are full of short lines, half pages, and photographs of wide-open natural scenes. If it were a print book, I would imagine it somewhere between a photo journal and a poetry chapbook – certainly not as a manual on spiritual exercises. What did you intend to convey through this aesthetic choice?
DJ: Walk Like a God is laid out to feel like the wide expanse of the road opening up before you. Each idea gets its own page. I use images sparingly, but in a way that hints at the meaning of the words around them. I want the book to feel like a landscape painting.
Ebooks are my favorite medium because they have such amazing aesthetic options. Print books are limited by cost: more pages means a higher price, and color ink is expensive. Ebooks don’t have that limitation. If the author wants a lush montage of full-color images, in they go. If a sentence should meander across the page like ants, no problem. Ebooks allow authors to turn their manuscript into visual art, and that in turn allows a mood to come across. That speaks to readers. I’m really proud of what I did with Walk Like a God and I wish more authors would try this approach.
BTN: The book runs $8 at your site, but you encourage readers to email it around… for free. Why so permissive with your work?
DJ: Spirituality is not meant to be caged. I spent a lot of time working on Walk Like a God and I really appreciate it when someone buys a copy. But if they read it and think, wow, this would really help my friend—why can’t they just pass it on to them? Every reader who buys Walk Like a God has permission to share it for free. Maybe it will mean less profit, but it will also mean more people benefit from the book. That’s what I really want to see.
BTN: Do you have any plans for a discussion group or forum where people can support and encourage each other in this practice?
BTN: What would you like to know from readers of Humanistic Paganism? What’s your one burning question for them?
DJ: Oh, wow! That’s a fun question. Okay, Humanistic Pagans, here’s what I want to know: What is your adventure? What’s the thing you do that will change the way the world works?
BTN: Okay, last question: If you could offer one take-away for readers, something that sums up your view on spirituality and the Heroic Life, what would it be?
DJ: Remember that dream you had when you were little? You can fucking do that.
The ebook Walk Like a God by Drew Jacob is available for purchase here.
For a full review of the ebook, go here.
And for a field test of the techniques in the book, watch for a post on July 24th here on Humanistic Paganism.
Drew Jacob is a priest of many gods, a seasoned nonprofit professional, a writer, an observer and all too frequently a student of his own misadventures. He follows the Heroic Path: the idea that the highest goal in life is to live gloriously, to distinguish oneself through deeds, to be clever and brave and become known for it – to use the moments of one’s life to leave a lasting and worthy impression on the world. He is the author of Rogue Priest and The Heroic Path.