Spirituality: What exactly is it?

The first question, and a great place to begin, is deciding what we mean by spirituality.

First and foremost spirituality is not religion. To make sure we differentiate spirituality from religion, I offer this definition of religion: Religion is a system of rituals, laws, norms, mores, beliefs and practices that both define a community and support and sustain worship of a common God in community. Religion encompasses how we relate to God and one another as a particular group and therefore can become a very human experience. Human experiences are filled with contradictions, and the history of religion reflects our humanity in some rather unsavory and unfortunate ways. I do not mean to diminish religion and its importance, rather offer that religion represents only a portion, though a necessary portion, of our total God experience.

Spirituality is something very different. I will use spirituality to describe our personal, one-on-one, relationship with God. Spirituality deals with the very large question of who is God for me and what does He/She mean to me in the context of my life? Yes, spirituality gets very personal very quickly, and it should, because how can you truly love a God that you have no personal relationship with? I believe that God, is a being who created us out of love and desires a personal, intimate, relationship with each of us. For the purpose of this blog, spirituality refers to the awareness of and desire for a personal, on-on-one, meaningful relationship with the creator/being we call God.

I will often use the term spiritual journey. By this I mean the process or path by which we discover, experience and come to terms with our personal relationship with God. I call it a journey not to imply that there exists a destination to which we all should aspire to arrive at, rather it captures the reality of the dynamic nature of the process and the spiritual growth that results from persuing our sense of spirituality. Spiritual direction, as a ministry, attaches at this personal journey point. In spiritual direction, a person contemplates, God’s footprints in the fabric of their daily lives. Spiritual direction examins the question of who is God for me and how does He/She show up in the context of what is most meaningful to me and my daily life.

I am often asked: Does spirituality require a belief in God? In short, yes. However, the name God is a generic name. As a name, God encompasses a very wide swath that includes any Creator/Being with whom we aspire to have a relationship with. Whether we refer to our particular Creator/Being as: God, Allah, Vishnu, Buddha, Jesus, The Great Spirit, or some other name, the pursuit of Spirituality entails exploring our personal relationship with that Creator/Being. As the ancient saying goes, “all roads lead to Rome”. It is my firm belief that “all names lead to the one God” no matter by what name we chose to define our spirituality with.

What if our spirtuality centers on a created object: crystals, nature, cosmos, etc? A created object is a great place to start our journey, but we must then pose the question: to whom do we attribute the creation of the objects that have that special pull on us? In appreciating the creation are we not implicitly opening ourselves to its creator? When I compliment a mother or father on their beautiful baby, am I not also complimenting them from whom the baby came? I believe that God speaks to us by whatever means we are willing to listen, and then He/She will lead us along the journey She/He desires for us.

My particular language for God originates from the Trinitarian, Christian, Catholic religion. Therefore, that is the particular language I will draw from in my atempt to convey my own experiences and beliefs about spirituality and the journey we begin once we start to seek a relationship with God. Having said that, I have studied the Islamic, Hindu, Judaic, and Buddhist religious traditions and have great respect for the various images and languages they use for God. Everything that I say or write on the topic of spirituality will hopefully contain some meaning or value in the context of other religious traditions, just as I have acquired meaning and value for my own spirituality from the study of those same traditions. For the purpose of this blog, I will draw from many different sources which will include: my own personal experience, understanding and observations, Scripture, Christian teachings, Catholic Tradition, various prayer traditions, the sayings and writings of Saints and Doctors of the Church, and other spiritual writers. Each, as I have stated before, have left me with many more questions than answers, but all have left their indelible imprint on my own personal understanding of and relationship with God.

One final note: If anything I have written does not speak to you, or you find you disagree with, then don’t sweat it. Simply let it go and pay no heed or mind to it. It simply means that, as a unique, one of a kind, creation God chooses to speak to each of us in different ways. We are not meant to understand God in the same way. Above all else, listen to what God is saying to you personally, now, here in the present. His/Her voice is the only voice you need to pay attention to.

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