Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What is spirituality?

“What is spirituality?  Describe it in 10 words or less.”  That was the question I heard this morning from a friend while we were sharing breakfast.

I hedged.  “That’s not a question with a simple answer.  I’m going to need some time.” 

My friend asked the question because he and another person I know are working on a new vision statement for the congregation I used to belong to.  Vibrant spirituality, or something along those lines, is something they are being directed to nurture within the congregation, hence the new mission statement. 

So as I drove to work after breakfast I began to think about the question.  My thoughts ran in two directions.  Organized, the headings were: “Spirituality is” and “Spirituality is not.”

Given my place, theologically-speaking, there are certain assumptions that must exist before I can attempt to write a brief definition of spirituality. 

I’m a Protestant Christian who finds his home among the work of John Calvin and the Reformed tradition.  That means that vague spirituality “is not.”  Spirituality for me can not be all-inclusive.  God isn’t in everything, or allowing everything.  Jesus is not merely a great teacher or moral exemplar.

Spirituality is decidedly Christian and biblical.  My definition of spirituality must be in accord with God’s revealed word and not something that merely sounds like a good idea in my own mind. 

I am not really much of a linguist but I think that spirituality must have its origin in being spiritual.  Our bodies have a physical structure so we can say that all people are physical beings.  We also have brains and a whole world of interior thoughts and feelings, so we can also say that we are emotional beings.  But what of spirit?

I think (and blogging is essentially thinking out loud) that to be spiritual includes taking our inner thoughts and looking outside of our own selves and what we can concretely feel and know, and in that outside place find meaning for our lives.

With that as a foundation I don’t think that we can automatically say that all people are spiritual, although all people may have the capacity to be spiritual.  Thinking beyond themselves, and consequently making choices and actions on those thoughts, just isn’t on everyone’s radar.  I know people who go days, and years, without a spiritual thought.  And I have had personal experience as one of them.

So back to the matter of definition, spirituality, for me, has to include a perspective that finds meaning outside of myself, is decidedly Christian, and validated biblically.  And what else?
If I hold belief in something outside of myself to give meaning and purpose to life, to my life, then it follows that what gives meaning is the subject of my definition and I am the object.  Spirituality does not arise spontaneously in me but is received as a gift to me. 

And lastly, spirituality has to have a purpose.  It cannot be something that merely exists but it must exist for a reason.

So here is an attempt to define spirituality and answer my friend’s question:

Spirituality is the gift given to me, by God, through Jesus, by which I desire to be shaped more and more in His image.

This attempt is longer than the 10 word definition my friend asked for, but it seems the barest I can make it at this time and yet still contain those things that I find to be essential.    

How would you define spirituality? You don’t need to restrict yourself to 10 words!  And what purpose does it serve in your life?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts if you are comfortable sharing them, either on the blog or by email. 

And I am glad to have the kinds of friendships that invite me to consider questions such as the one that sparked this post.

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