What is spirituality anyway?
In recent years a renewed spiritual movement has taken hold. We hear about it from many sources: through the print media, on television and radio, from the pulpit, through storefront displays and in conversation. The messages we receive from these sources are mixed…some having to do with deepening our understanding and experience of God. Others take us far afield into areas of magical thinking and/or self-centeredness.
What is the difference between religion and spirituality? And how do we understand spirituality within the context of our Christian faith tradition? It’s difficult to say whether one’s religious beliefs impact their spirituality or whether their spirituality influences their religious beliefs. The two are inseparable though different. Spirituality is a broad based set of personal beliefs and values that encompasses how one views life and the experiences they encounter. Central to one’s spirituality is the awareness of a “being” or “force” that transcends the material world and provides a deep sense of wholeness or connectedness to the universe. This awareness of the sacred, which brings meaning and purpose to human existence, is expressed in religious teachings throughout the world and down through the ages. Our spirituality grows out of how we personally experience the sacred (or God, as we Christians refer to the sacred) and how our encounters with God impact the way we view our lives and live them out in relation to ourselves, others, God and creation.
Christian religious teachings, beliefs and practices introduce us to God. They give us concepts and experiences with which to understand the Christian spiritual life, they provide instruction in leading a faithful life and they sustain us in our Christian walk. Worship, educational opportunities, fellowship and service projects are done within the context of our Christian faith—each enriching our experience of God and one another.
How we understand, relate to, and live out our Christian teachings is part of our spirituality. Spirituality is influenced by our personal and private response to the experience of corporate religious teachings and practices. The following quotes come from a number of people reflecting on spirituality, each expressing their own understanding of spirituality and the spiritual life. As you read through them, you may wish to reflect on your own religious experiences and how they have nurtured your spiritual life.
“Spirituality is our listening to God in all of life, (all ways and always) and our conscious (choiceful) response.”
“Spirituality is lived relationship with the Mystery. It’s a way of being in the world in light of the Mystery at the heart of the universe—the Mystery we call God—experiencing the Presence, the Communion and the Great Joy that is ever drawing us into itself.”
Mary Smith, osf
“For me, the heart of the spiritual quest is to know ‘the rapture of being alive’ and to allow that knowledge to transform us into celebrants, advocates, defenders of life wherever we find it.”
“The spiritual life might be best described as an unending conversion experience. It is God who enables us to ‘get unstuck’, to see things differently, to dream dreams and imagine the new. It is God who enables us to embrace newness within permanence.”
“Christian spirituality is the experience and expression of the revelation of God in the spirit of Jesus to which a believer lovingly responds in prayer and in action, as an individual, as a participant in a faith community and as a member of the human family with creation.”
Phil Boroughs, SJ
“The Spirit is life, ruah, breath, wind. To be spiritual is to be alive, filled with ruah; breathing deeply, in touch with the wind. Spirituality is a life-filled path, a spirit-filled way of living.”
“The spiritual life to which we are all called is essentially a mystical voyage, a search for God in the midst of every time and place in which we find ourselves.”
How do these descriptions mirror, expand, challenge or contradict your own concept of spirituality? If you were asked to describe your spirituality in two or three sentences, what would you say? How has your Christian faith nourished your concept of God and opened your heart to a deep encounter with the Spirit? And if you’ve had a sense of God present and active in your life, how has that presence influenced your perception of what it means to live a full and meaningful life? These are only a few questions you may wish to consider as you ask yourself the question…What is spirituality anyway? May the grace of God accompany you in your quest for a life centered in the Spirit.