Exploring Spirituality: What is it? 2nd October 2013 A summary of the keynote address to launch the Autumn Series – exploring our understanding of spirituality in human experience. The exploration will continue through the series with a focus on some of the arts.
What is it ? To define ‘spirituality’ is not only difficult but impossible! The ‘spiritual’ is a dimension of life that cannot be contained in words and ideas ..... no more than it can be contained in a block of wood carved into an effigy. Never the less we need words, thoughts, carvings, art, music, drama and literature to point to the spiritual and to express our spirituality. Social scientists have defined spirituality as – “the search for the sacred”. The sacred is something apart from ordinary life.... Sometimes deliberately set apart in consecration or ordination – it is something worthy of veneration, hallowed, revered. I take an opposite view, derived from our understanding of the ancient Latin word ‘spiritualitas’ – which means ‘to be alive’, ‘to be made alive’, ‘to be animated’, ‘to be human’ and these things are not apart from life! In our traditional Christian understanding we are made alive by God. Life is breathed into us by the Holy Spirit. Spirituality is, therefore, an integral part of human life for everyone. God is alive and active in every part of creation, whether that is recognised and believed or not. Spirituality cannot be extracted, as though it can have an existence of its own. It is to do with the whole person and whole experience. It is an integral part of living and being. It is in loving and forgiving, in sensitive tolerance, respect for others, patience, contentment, harmony, joy, care and concern, responsibility ....... and I believe that what we call spiritual is that aspect of our humanity that enables us to have relationship with God. At some level I think that every person has some sort of relationship with/to God – not necessarily conscious, deliberate, faith-based or religious. But God is our source and He has made us ‘body, mind and spirit’. Spiritual experience belongs to every person.
Where is it ? I supported the above with illustrations from Africa, nature, the testimony of others e.g. “I am not religious, but the natural world feeds my spirit.”.... also from music, the Olympics, the Proms, a good book, etc. These experiences are not merely emotional or cultural – you can see people being uplifted, joyful, more whole, becoming a fuller being, even if temporarily. Inspiration is at times the experience of people of all faiths and none. At its best spirituality is a sustaining and renewing element in life. At its worst it is haunting, crippling and destructive. It can be demonic, as in Satanism and the black arts, or in the brutal oppression of some political regimes, or in the activity of terrorists who reach such a state of sacrificial ecstasy to enable them to blow themselves and others apart, believing that they will be transported into paradise. Powerlessness, depression and remorse have a negative spiritual impact. Suffering and sorrow have long been regarded as spiritual matters. Bereavement and illness can involve deep spiritual pain and anguish. It is often at rock-bottom times that people look for God, although the experience of God’s absence, non-existence or lack of concern can be spiritually despairing.
Spiritual but not religious This has become a popular claim but I frequently see that people need to do something quite religious to express something spiritual, especially at times of shock – lighting candles, laying flowers, gathering in silence, organising vigils, standing before a cross – not only church going Christians but many, many people. (Illustrated this from a number of situations.)
Christian Mission A major challenge for Christians is to identify spiritual experience in the lives of others and in the community..... to put our finger on it, to give it some words, as Jesus seemed to do in so many of His parables. “The Kingdom of God is like .....” this and that, He said, pointing to experiences of everyday life and putting His finger on something spiritual, which He likened to the Kingdom of God. I expanded on this for our own day, for when we spot the glory of God, and with suggestions of what the Kingdom may be like in life today, and ways in which we can see the Holy Spirit lifting the human spirit. Then in the rock bottom experiences of today I suggested ways in which we can see the reality of the cross and the healing Grace of God .... in human experience and yet we do not point to these things, name them, proclaim them, enjoy them or share in them, as Christ did .... and we need to! For Christians spirituality is not only a spiritual matter – it is a human matter, a whole life matter, because all life is a gift from God. “He is the creator of all things, spiritual and material” Col.1 v 16. He is the one in whom “all things hold together” Col 1 v 16 . One God, the origin and ground of all (not the fragmenting faith of polytheism) – One God , present in every aspect of life, in whom all things cohere, are held together – the nice bits and the nasty bits. “In whom we live and move and have our being.” Our concern about spirituality can be self centred and self indulgent. Christianity directs our attention towards God and our neighbour. Christians seek a spirituality which is rooted in relationship with God, who is alive in the world and present in every aspect, every action, every thought and experience. This series will be good and stimulating but in the end let us not become too preoccupied with our spirituality – Let us focus our hearts and minds upon God-Listen to God speaking through poetry and drama; See Him revealing Himself in art; Feel Him touching our inner life in music; Recognise God as the source of all that is and all we are; Let God be our centre ........ and our soul.