In our ongoing discussion about visioning for the church I’d like to talk about spirituality. Again spirituality is another one of those buzzwords in the church, but also outside the church as well. And I’m sure we’ve all engaged or at least overheard the debate: I’m spiritual but I’m not religious. Spirituality vs Religion. As I do baptism visits with young families I hear this all the time. Then there are those who claim to not be spiritual at all. But what is spirituality? What does it mean to us in the church? How can we engage people in a conversation on spirituality so they can see the importance of spirituality in their own lives?
When trying to define something like spirituality it is important to listen to people’s stories. There are countless stories like these from people from all walks of life. The language they use differs dramatically, but at the heart they share an experience of something beyond themselves. For some it is a connection with those around them, the “other” as theologians and philosophers term it. They become keenly aware of the injustice that many people endure and this awareness causes them to act to eradicate that injustice. They see that we are not alone in the world; in fact we are connected to all other people. If they suffer then we all suffer, if we have peace and security then all should have the same.
For others their story is about connection with a faith community and with god. In worship and fellowship with others of like belief they encounter something. What that something is varies from community to community. For some it is a cosmic force, for others it is a divine being as in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Still for others this belonging to a community gives them a clearer understanding of who they are, what they believe, how they live, and what is their purpose.
There are also those who do not use the language of religion or humanism in their stories. Perhaps we or even they would struggle to identify the explicitly spiritual aspects of her story. These people do not worship in a temple or synagogue. Their prayer and meditation happens in the forests, on the seashore, on a lake, or a mountain hike, with their children or with their lovers. Like the Pagans and First Nations people they are in tune with the planet and its life force. They know that we are a part of a greater whole. If we neglect this and destroy the earth with greed and abandon, then we do it at our own peril.
While spirituality is difficult to define there is one common element. Spirituality, and religion at its basic understanding, opens our eyes to the possibility that there is more to life than meets the eye. There is more to life than my selfish ambitions and desires. There is more to life than climbing the corporate ladder and making more money. Spirituality tells us that we are more than consumers, we must also be givers. There is more to life than me. Spirituality opens our eyes to the world around us: the hungry, the sick, the outcasts, the poisoned lakes and streams, the animals that are treated as nothing more than “resources”. Spirituality makes us take a long hard look at ourselves and what we are doing to contribute to such evil. Spirituality also causes us to wonder, to dream, to hope that there can be a better world. It dares us with the possibility that there may be life after death, miracles, meaning in the randomness of life, and perhaps even a god or force behind all of it working things out in ways that we humans cannot even begin to understand. Spirituality invites us all to open our eyes.
The church has been very good at the religious side of spirituality. We’re good with ritual and tradition, and creating a spirituality based on community worship. We’ve not been very good at engaging the other two types of spirituality listed above; those spiritualities that allow people to see the spiritual side of life in service to other people and in the beauty of creation through nature and science.
The Christian writer Rob Bell claims that everything is spiritual; it’s just a matter of whether we have our eyes open to it. For him spirituality is about opening our eyes to the beauty, wonder, and awe of creation around us. It’s opening our eyes to what God has done and is doing in our lives. It’s connecting our story with God’s story.
How, you might ask, can the church do this? Thankfully we have a long, rich spiritual tradition to draw upon in the church. And liturgy is definitely a great place to start, but it’s not enough. We can’t expect people to just show up on Sunday for an hour and expect them to make the connections we’re talking about. We need to create places and opportunities for people to experience the divine, the sacred, the holy. We need to provide opportunities to serve others. We need to have various ways that people can pray: centering prayer, prayer beads, the Jesus prayer, icons, labyrinths, silence. Get people away on retreats, away from the noise and clamour where they can listen for the voice of God. Facilitate ways to get people connected with the earth through hikes, community gardens, and neighbourhood cleanups. The one size fits all approach does not work, has never worked. We need to journey with people and help them find their way along the path, the path that leads home. We need to do this together.