Mystics Discuss Spirituality at Local Church

Emma Dahl

Photo by Marra Clay

It’s a quiet Wednesday morning at the First Congregational Church located just across Mill Creek from the Whitman College campus. The church is mostly empty, but in a little room around the corner from the main sanctuary, a small group of people is meeting to discuss spiritual aspects of world religions. This week’s focus is Sufism, a mystical sect of Islam.

It’s one part of a four-week course on the core beliefs of various mystical religions. The classes are led by Dr. Joy Kachel, the spiritual leader for the Unity Church of Peace in Walla Walla. The course is aimed at exploring what different world religions have in common and what those similarities say about mankind’s universal search for spiritual identity. Dr. Kachel laid out the goals of the class.

“The purposes [of the course] are to expand knowledge about other religions, because especially in a conservative town like [Walla Walla], people have very set ideas,” said Kachel. “What I’m trying to do is show how everyone has this yearning for connection … If you look at [different religions], they all converge at a very similar point. Often, they’re only expressed differently due to culture and perhaps time.”

When asked about the difference between spirituality and religion, Kachel explained that it boiled down to the presence or lack of rules.

“Spirituality has no dogma. Spirituality is an experience, where religion has a set of laws,” she said.

Another attendee of the class, Marty Quistberg, agreed with Dr. Kachel.

Photo by Marra Clay

“There’s no rules or dogma in spirituality. It’s essentially who we are. We are not our bodies; we are spirits,” said Quistberg.

Adam Kirtley, the Stuart Coordinator of Religious and Spiritual Life at Whitman, stated that fewer than half of Whitman students enter the college with any religious association, but that 60-75 percent indicate that spirituality is important to them.

“Whitman does have fewer religious students than most schools, but this is to be expected for a non-sectarian liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest,” said Kirtley.

It’s possible that this discrepancy of spirituality says something about Whitman, or it could say something about young people’s quest for spiritual fulfillment in general.

Kachel explained that an individual’s spiritual journey can begin at a young age and that it should continue into adulthood.

“It’s nothing new … As young people are exploring their world and the hugeness and vastness of knowledge and wisdom, I think the religion part of it can be confining. This is a time for expansion, not contraction, in [student’s] lives –– actually in all our lives,” said Kachel.

Photo by Marra Clay

Kachel went on to explain that connections can be found in major world religions on a spiritual level because as people, “we are all really looking for the same thing.”