Lessons from Leo Tolstoy and Jesus

Last week, I found myself delving into the life and works of Leo Tolstoy, the celebrated author of ‘War and Peace’. What fascinated me most about Tolstoy was not just his literary genius but his personal spirituality. Tolstoy crafted his own version of Christianity, deeply influenced by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which ultimately led to his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church. I always think it’s a good sign when someone gets thrown out of organized religion; it often means they’re onto something profound.


Tolstoy’s interpretation of Christianity was radical. It was based on the teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount:

– “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

– “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

– “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

– “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

– “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

– “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

– “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

– “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”


Practicing Their Teachings

What made Jesus’ message so transformative was not his miracles—many magicians of his time could perform similar feats—but his teachings on how to live. His command to love your enemies and pray for them was revolutionary, especially in a time when Jews were under Roman oppression. Jesus not only preached this; he practiced it. When a Roman centurion asked for help, Jesus didn’t hesitate to heal his servant.

Tolstoy tried to live by these principles, but his strict interpretation made it difficult for his family to follow. There’s always a balance between spiritual ideals and worldly realities. How do we reconcile the two? For instance, Tolstoy wanted to give away all his wealth, but his wife argued they needed it to marry off their daughters.


Spirituality Without Suffering

I don’t believe in a spirituality that requires suffering. A loving Creator wouldn’t demand that we endure pain to connect with it. Imagine a niece telling you she has a boyfriend who humiliates her before being nice—your advice would be to leave him. Similarly, a divine being wouldn’t find joy in our suffering. Scripture even says, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” God delights in our happiness, not our misery.

We’re closest to the divine when we’re experiencing joy. Whether it’s sharing pictures of our grandchildren, laughing with friends, or dancing, these moments of happiness connect us with the Spirit. Humanity often misconstrues suffering as a path to spirituality. Historical examples like the Inquisition or self-flagellation during the Black Death illustrate this misguided belief.


Embracing the Joy in Life

Even modern figures like Mother Teresa wore a hair shirt as a form of penance. Despite her good deeds, she was known to be difficult. How much more good could she have done if she had embraced comfort instead of self-inflicted suffering?

Our spiritual journey should focus on joy and kindness. Simple acts of gratitude can transform our lives. For instance, I’m turning 65 soon, and I had to visit the Social Security office to correct a misspelling of my name. Despite the long wait and the frustration around me, the officer who helped me was incredibly kind and efficient. A simple “thank you” can make a significant difference.


Here are some practices to cultivate a joyful spirituality:

1. Practice Gratitude

Daily gratitude can change your outlook. We should be thankful for simple inventions like air conditioning, especially in the sweltering summers of Saint Augustine, Florida.

2. Engage in Acts of Kindness

Small gestures can uplift both you and those around you. These don’t have to be grand; even tiny acts of thoughtfulness can make a big impact.

3. Explore Diverse Spiritual Practices

Whether it’s prayer, meditation, or attending different services, find what resonates with you. Your spiritual journey is personal and can draw from various traditions.

4. Embrace Joy

Find delight in everyday moments, like enjoying nature or sharing laughter with friends.

5. Affirmative Prayer

Our approach at the Center for Spiritual Living encourages praying with the belief that Spirit is your partner, not a punitive force. This frees you from worry and empowers you to create a better life. Request a prayer.


Discovering a Joyful Spirituality

Our teachings at the Center for Spiritual Living support the idea that life reflects what we think into it. We offer a flexible framework adaptable to any faith tradition, complementing your existing beliefs. We believe in seeing the divine within ourselves and those around us.

Remember, Spirit has never been disappointed in you. It desires to shower you with opportunities and blessings; all you have to do is say yes to life. As Nina Simone sang, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life, and I’m feeling good.” Embrace this change and let joy guide your spirituality.