During the past decade, the term, "spirituality," has become widely used. Where in generations past, its usage was more or less associated with specific lifestyles in a religious tradition (e.g., Franciscan spirituality, Dominican spirituality, etc.), the more recent development is to actually contrast spirituality with religion. It is not uncommon to hear people say that they don't belong to any organized religion, but that they're deeply spiritual. Even more striking are those who maintain that religion is often an obstacle to developing spirituality.
Naturally, this prompts the question of what do people mean by spirituality in the first place? Here you will find a wide range of responses, like the following:
1. Spirituality then is that which animates a person's life of faith; that which moves a person's faith to greater depths and perfection.
2. A common meaning is "devotion to metaphysical matters, as opposed to worldly things." Another is "Activities which renew, lift up, comfort, heal and inspire both ourselves and those with whom we interact."
3. A sense of meaning and purpose, a sense of self and 'that which is greater than self', and also practices such as meditation and 'bonding rituals' which support such identity and relationship; religion represents only a minor subset of the overall themes of spirituality and spiritual practices, and may in some cases hinder rather than assist in spiritual development, especially in the workplace; expressed in organisations in issues such as 'belonging' (identification with) and active commitment to the collective identity and purpose of the organisation.
4. Spirituality may include belief in supernatural powers, as in religion, but the emphasis is on experience. What is referred to as "religion" and what is referred to as "spirituality" are often the same. In recent years, "spirituality" has often carried connotations of the believer's faith being more personal, less dogmatic, more open to new ideas and myriad influences, and more pluralistic than the faiths of established religions. Those given to speaking of "spirituality" rather than "religion."
That's just a smattering of what you'll find on the web. Here again you see that some definitions pertain to the life of faith in a religious tradition, but others move toward a more expansive concept entailing growth, awareness and so forth.
Given this diversity of understanding concerning the meaning of spirituality, I felt it important to clarify the understanding of the term as we will be using it in this series. Unto this end, I call to your attention slides 3, 7 and 8 of the slideshow resource (resource for registered users).
Slide 3 contrasts spirituality with psychology, ethics and theology, though only in a very general and intuitive manner. Anyone looking to poke holes and find fault can easily do so, as the distinctions are not nearly as airtight as the table cells suggest. Rather, they point up general areas of concern, which obviously overlap and interact. It would be very difficult, for example, to grow spiritually without attending to the other areas of concern to some extent. And yet, I think it's obvious from this sketch, that these disciplines are not the same. Perhaps we can tease out the interactions more in our discussions. For now, what I call your attention to is the general definition I am using, which doesn't require participation in an organized religion, but refers, instead, to innate tendencies that we all possess.
Slide 7 anticipates our next lesson by noting that spirituality is something of a philosophical psychology. Stay tuned . . .
Slide 8 indicates formative influences from religious traditions -- how one's spirituality is shaped by them in distinctive ways. More on this later as well.
The Essential Questions
Spirituality, then, as the term is used in this course, refers to the natural human striving for meaning and self-transcendence. It entails such considerations as:
- what makes you tick?
- why do you get out of bed in the morning?
- what are the values which motivate your strivings?
- what is the center of your life?
The answer to these questions reveals to you the core concerns of your spirituality.
You will note, I'm sure, that these questions suggest religious responses, but that need not be the case. The answer to them might be as simple and common as caring for one's family, or advancing one's career. As Jesus noted, where one's treasure is, there is one's heart -- heart understood, here, as that inner core of spiritual valuing. This means that what one thinks one's spirituality "should" be and what it actually turns out to be might not be the same.
Also implied in this understanding is that everyone is already living out a spirituality of some kind. Why? Because these essential spiritual questions and concerns are not something we make up or add to our nature because we go to Church or read spiritual books. Rather, they are constitutive of our human nature because of the fact that we all possess a spiritual soul. How the soul is growing and developing itself is the concern of spirituality. Hence, the ultimate question for each person to answer is not whether or not you are a spiritual person or whether or not you practice spirituality, but what is your spirituality?
Something to think about!
Reflection and Discussion
1. Questions or comments from the conference?
2. What do you think about the definition and understanding of spirituality proposed in this lesson?
3. How do you respond to the four essential questions asked above?
4. What is your spirituality?
For a much deeper dig into the issue of perspectives on spirituality, see
I am an early riser and attend Mass each morning before heading to work. I look forward to this special time and also look forward to what each moment may bring. This did not happen overnight. I have struggled with attention or awareness for sometime. I especially liked your presentation on attention. I liked the first definition of Spirituality simply because that is where I am.
I found myself reflecting on the four essential questions of spirituality, asking myself what motivates me and gets me out of bed. I think a big part of my spirituality is being a good steward of what I've been given and sharing it with others. I've been given good health, so I see it as an obligation to exercise and keep my body healthy, and to donate blood when the opportunity arises. I've been given the ability to sing, so it's my responsibility to develop and use my voice to minister to others. I'm still observing myself and how I'm motivated, but those were just a couple things I noticed as I reflected on the first conference.
I have been struggling with the question of what makes me tick or makes me get out of bed in the morning. I could not really answer that in all honesty. Please excuse my simple approach to this.
Your materials have challenged me to think of the makeup of body, soul and spirt. Assuming we are all christians who have been led to your site and we beliive we have been created by a finite being, receiving the breath of life from this being and believing we are his children, there would naturally be in us a desire to be one with him. As infants we are keenly aware of our surroundings and pay close attention to sounds and sights and feelings that our senses awaken to. We who have been blessed with sound bodies and minds and good parents experience this sense of oneness with our parents, we are comfortable at the human level, even those who grew up without love long for this human love. They are searching for what they do not know. Our spirits, the spirit of life that is within us from the moment of conception or even before in God's plan is still present. I don't know that we have been trained to pay attention to this spirit.
Than we grow from infancy when our human needs are met by our caretakers. We have a natural tendency to tire from our day's activities and require rest. We rise because we are refreshed or hungry or have plans or duties at whatever stage in life we are. Most do these things out of habit or duty. Our sense of awareness or attention seems to have gotten lost in all this activity. Life can become mundane. Than our spirits become restless and we long for something. Is it Love we are longing for? Is this what makes us keep on? Is it the Love of our creator that draws us to long for him? Do we need to become as little children again, as infants, totally dependent on the Spirit of Love, being aware of this spirit within us?
As I said previously, excuse my simple mind. Thanks Phil, for the thought provoking presentations.
It's not always easy to get in touch with what our deeper spiritual yearnings are. The routines of everyday life aren't necessarily an obstacle, however, as the manner in which we go about doing so can be revelatory.
Sometimes it takes a teaser of a question or scenario to help one begin to clarify -- e.g., if you could live any way you wanted to and money was no problem, how would you live? The answer to this reveals something of the treasure that moves one's heart. I suspect that kind of treasuring is going on even amongst the ordinary routines, but it might take a little more silence to get in touch with it.
Thomas Merton asked some novices: Why does one join a monastery?
What do you think his answer was?
In the eyes of the church, ultimately, why do any of us get married? or ordained?
What is the Holy Grail?
Perhaps you'd like to think about these questions and try to answer them, so I'll finish my comments in a separate post.
One joins a monastery to save one's soul and to help one's community to save their souls.
One gets married to save one's soul and to help one's spouse and children save their souls.
One embarks on the quest for this Holy Grail, on this journey of transformation, not simply to become a better person, not to experience enlightenment, not to become holistically integrated and psychologically individuated, not to move closer to perfection, but, at a more basic level, for a more fundamental reason, in order to be saved, urgently and dramatically rescued from sin and death, overcoming the great ontological gulf between the human and the Divine, the great existential chasm between our best idealizations and their realizations. One cannot credibly deny this gulf, this chasm, although many, in essence do, by affirming various metaphysical positions as pantheism and monism, trying to solve the age old paradox of the One and the Many, a paradox never resolved through logic but only by the Incarnation, not by a relationship of logic between ideas but by a relationship of love between persons.
To be sure, the journey of transformation will ultimately entail our holistic integration, psychological individuation, our path from image to likeness --- but we can gravely err if we don't get right what Merton says about our being saved as properly basic, clearly fundamental.
How might we err?
For starters, we might imagine we could experience something like Christian theosis with no need for a Savior and with no appreciation of the urgency and depth of this crisis we call the human condition. Simply ridding ourselves of desire is not the cure. Seeing suffering as maya, as illusion, won't get it. No ascetic disciplines or spiritual practices will complete our transformation and conversion(s). All of these elements that might resemble theosis from other traditions, both theistic and nontheistic, are necessary but not sufficient. We need a Savior and we need a Helper!
Have a Blessed Pentecost.
Come Holy Breath,
This notion of necessary but not sufficient seems to play into many of life's experiences. Not seeing all distinctions as dichotomies is what much of the catholic both/and approach is about. Think of this saying by Jesus: Wo/man does not live on bread, alone. There is all the difference in the world made by the addition of the word alone. Jesus didn't say Wo/man does not live on bread.
Thus Jesus tells us the New Testament doesn't negate the OT but rather fulfills it. The NT takes us beyond merely following rules and laws but doesn't mean rules and laws do not have their proper place and role. So, too, agape doesn't negate eros. Apophasis (via negativa) doesn't negate kataphasis (via positiva). And so on. We need spiritual practices and ascetic disciplines but they, alone, are not enough. We need intellectual, affective, moral and social conversions but they, alone, are not enough and are, optimally, to be transvalued by religious conversion. Even our natural human appetites and desires are good and not to be negated but rather properly ordered (for John of the Cross notes they can be disordered and Ignatius notes they are often inordinate.)
I just draw these distinctions to remind myself to not steer, necessarily, to dichotomous thinking, either-or thinking, although this is not to deny that some dichotmomies are very real, especially in the realm of values: true-false, right-wrong, good-evil, beautiful-ugly, sacred-polluted --- however problematical it may be in properly discerning same. So, in saying the journey of transformation is not exhausted by psychological individuation, holistic integration, enlightenment and such, we do not deny the efficacies of such experiences and how they are very much involved, intertwined, with our experience of salvation by our whole being.
Well, this is a reminder to me more than anything else, teaching best, as they say, what one needs to learn the most. Hope it helps others, too.
jbThis message has been edited. Last edited by: JB,
a passing thought ... for some of the truly saintly ... their own salvation was necessary but not sufficient ... as they were concerned for the salvation of the whole world ... and that was not sufficient as they were further concerned with ad majorem Dei gloriam ... the greatest possible glory of God ... the greatest love, joy, beauty, peace, goodness, truth
and we might conceive theosis in this manner ... as an ever-widening focus of concern
one with philosophic concerns has more concern than merely the positivistic/scientific and one with theistic concerns has a greater realm of interests and concerns than either the positivistic or philosophic (even both taken together) and one with a theotic focus has the widest possible range of concerns ... so, one way of conceiving of the difference between these realms is to recognize that they are progressively larger (and include and presuppose the other realms)
now, as we know, it is not enough to increase one's sphere of concern without also increasing one's sphere of influence, for the lack of overlap of these spheres is what generates life's fears and anxieties ...
but how does a finite human increase their sphere of influence commensurate with their increasing sphere of concern? through prayer and cooperation with the Holy Spirit, Who's got the whole world in His Hands
you and me sister,
jbThis message has been edited. Last edited by: JB,
I was musing this a.m. on how our increasing our sphere(s) of concern can correspond to what Richard Rohr calls our Large Self. (He uses small/Large self interchangeably with false/True self).
In this sense, perhaps, it is not so much our self that gets smaller as we increase our foci of concern but that our self-concern diminishes, becoming an increasingly smaller part of our total concerns. And this heals us even as it heals the world.
I was thinking, too, of the words announce, pronounce, renounce, nuncio, nunciature, annunciation, pronunciation and renunciation --- trying to reconceive the words renounce and renunciation. And it seems that, in theosis, we are not so much renouncing our self and its concerns as we are renouncing how much of our total attention is focused on same as we increasingly broaden our scope and adopt new foci --- at play in the fields of the Lord and not at work on our own agenda. There is no frustration when our play for God is thwarted for that agenda is in His control. If we experience frustration when our work is somehow thwarted, then we are working, perhaps, on quite another agenda, not Hers?
Here’s my perspective on the first lesson. With regard to spirituality vis-à-vis religion……Religion is what you do, Spirituality is who you are. Because I also believe that spirituality is indeed necessarily constitutive of human nature it follows that an individual continually practices and develops that spirituality in one way or another either consciously or unconsciously.
I think I can argue that because God is pure Spirit He communicates Himself and His grace to us in and through our spirituality. Christians maintain that we are heirs to the graces of God by the fact that we have been given the Holy Spirit (the sending of which we celebrate this Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost). However, to ensure that the graces of God become manifest, in us and in the world, we must live a life closely united to and empathic of the life of Jesus Christ. By free will and choice we must give the Spirit the opportunity to bring about the kingdom of God.
God chose to enter human history through the personhood of Jesus. In addition to the atonement that Christ’s humanity established for mankind we Christians believe that God shows himself to the human race more palpably through Jesus Christ than through any other facet of creation. Although God’s grace is everywhere it is more in the here and now of the life of Jesus than anywhere else. To gain some discernment of God, unimaginable and incomprehensible as Divinity may be, we must look to the life of Christ. And when we do we find sacrifice, love, forgiveness, wisdom, gentleness, kindness, goodness, peace, joy, understanding, patience and all the other gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. There is no better or more comprehensive answer to the question of who God is or what God is like than an understanding of the life of Jesus.
So where does that put others who do not believe in Jesus, or even God? It puts them in the hands of the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit is centrifugal. On Pentecost the Spirit descended on the entire human race, not just the apostles. We can only understand the teaching of Jesus and live the life of Jesus because we have the Holy Spirit within us. (see John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me”) So anyone and everyone (Jew, Christian, Muslim, American Indian, the whole human race) are endowed with the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of Christ is in everyone and to the extent that we pray (or meditate or contemplate or reflect) perseveringly with love of neighbor in our hearts; to the extent that we forgive our enemies; to the extent that we bear our crosses with patience; to the extent we embody peace and goodness and kindness and gentleness and joy; to that extent we open ourselves to the kingdom of God, whether we’re conscious of it or not.
I hope I answered some of the essential questions posed in this lesson.
Thanks, Ljohn. Your reflection is something I feel I can ... pray ... a wonderful meditation.
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