What is Spirituality?
Spirituality is a difficult concept to define. It could be said that the more it is considered, the more it eludes capture.
Many people have a deep sense that there is an aspect to their humanity that goes beyond their body and mind. The term often given to this other aspect is spirit and the accompanying nurture or experience of it is often called spirituality. The trialectic of body, mind and spirit form part of the common understanding of a personal being and yet it is difficult to draw clear lines around each of these things. It seems reasonable to assume that one can’t have a mind without a body, and yet we can’t see the mind. If we have a spirit how does it interact with the physical body? Questions and issues such as these reveal the complexity of understanding and defining spirituality.
While the spiritual aspect of humanity is affirmed both by the scirptures and the traditions of the church throughout history the starting place for our exploration will be modern religious and secular notions. In doing this it may be more helpful initially to describe spirituality rather than attempt to define it.
Commonly when people discuss and write about spirituality they mention some of the following things:
- Beliefs and ideas about existential questions – What is the purpose of life? What is human identity.
- Self-image /personal identity/self-actualisation
- Inner feelings
- Feelings of awe, wonder, mystery, transcendence
- Creativity – imagination, inspiration, intuition, insight etc.
- Personal values
- Understanding of self in society – a sense of self awareness.
- Connection with the environment and wider world
One popular way of describing spirituality is that it shapes and informs our relationship with our inner self, with other people, with the environment and with God.For some people it speaks of a higher purpose.
Human understanding of spirituality has been also shaped by its exploration through metaphors. Some of the following metaphors help us to understand different aspects of spirituality.
The metaphor of a spiritual journey is very common across religions and in secular culture. This metaphor helps people to understand that there is progression and change in their spiritual life. Like any journey there may be up and downs, happy and difficult times and many transitions along the way. This metaphor also may suggest a final destination
The metaphor that spirituality is like a garden invites us to take care of the garden, nourish and sustain it.
Many people experience spirituality as a hunger. When we try to fill this hunger with things such as power, money and fame they fail to satisfy. *Many people experience spirituality as an existential yearning or hunger that needs to be fed.
G Stanley Hall the pioneering American psychologist who coined the term adolescence identified three questions that young people seek to answer:
o Who am I?
o Who do I belong to?
o What do I do?
• *These questions and are essentially spiritual questions. They are the questions all of us try to answer throughout life on a deep existential level. This is particularly true as life *changes and we strive to negotiate the transitions of our life.
The Global Positioning System or GPS enables us to know exactly where we are on the planet. It requires an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. It is a relational system. Just like a GPS our spirituality helps us to understand where we are in the world through our relationships
with others, with ourselves, with God, with the environment. These four relationships help us to locate ourselves in the world of identity, meaning and purpose.
Every person has a spiritual dimension. It might be compared to clay. Each person is a participant in shaping their own spirituality. *This occurs through our affect, thinking and actions. Other variables that may shape our spirituality are: our interactions and relationships with others, life experiences, family upbringing, early religious experiences, image of God, culture, and our everyday choices. The question may be asked: Why does our shape matter? It might be suggested that coming to know our shape assists in helping us understand our truer self and what it means to nourish conditions that help us remain close to God.
Spirituality can also refer to a person’s particular way of being in the world.
This is influenced by their perception of the world as well as the way they relate and interact with the world around them.
What about religion?
A natural question emerging from these metaphors is: What can religion contribute to these discussions?
To draw on some of these metaphors it can be suggested.
Religion seeks to
- point people to a particular source of nourishment for the spirit.
- provide a particular set of answers to existential questions.
- assists us to understand our relationships with ourselves, others, God and the world around us.
- provide a rich tradition to our spirituality and worship to influence a particular way of being in life and the world.
What is Christian Spirituality?
The Bible features a layered understanding of what today might be called spirituality. This understanding relates in part to the words that are frequently translated as soul and spirit. In today’s world these two words are often used in an interchangeable manner. However this is not the case in scripture. It might also be noted that a spirit/body dualism is not supported by the Bible in the way often thought. This separation has emerged partly due to the influence of Greek philosophy on modern and ancient thought as well as a lack of understanding of the way various words such as spirit, soul, body and flesh are used in scripture.
The word commonly translated as soul but also translated in other ways is the Hebrew word nep̱eš. The primary meaning of this word is something like “possessing life”. While nep̱eš is translated as soul it is not used in the same way that people often think about it today. In the Old Testament nep̱eš can apply to blood in the sense that is necessary for possessing physical existence. It might be said that nep̱eš has both physical and spiritual aspects. Nep̱eš in the Old Testament can be used to describe physical appetite, the source of emotion as well as will and moral action. The corresponding Greek word in the New Testament is psyche.
In the Old Testament the word “spirit” is translated from Hebrew word ruah, which has a range of meanings including divine power, breath and wind. These words are connected primarily with God’s spirit and people’s experience of its mystery and power. It is also used in ways that include elements of a person’s emotion, attitudes and personality. In the New Testament spirit can refer to human spirit, angelic or demonic spirit, and divine Spirit. References to the spirit as the arena of personality and emotions similar to those in the Old Testament also occur. Of particular interest here is that pneuma is used nearly 40 times to “denote that dimension of the human personality whereby relationship with God is possible”. Throughout the New Testament however the word spirit is primarily in reference to the Holy Spirit and the work it does in and through those who accept Christ. In the New Testament the encounter between God Spirit and the human spirit is a fundamental and significant aspect of Christian experience.
One way of relating modern ideas of spirituality with those found in the Bible, particularly in relation to the words soul and spirit is as follows. All humans have what is described as life or soul. This is not a purely spiritual aspect of the human but is part of the integrated whole that is a person. Without any reference to God people may do things which help them live life to the full. These are the things that might help them be who they are, express themselves and have healthy and positive relationships with others. Many kinds of things help people be fully. These things are positive and beneficial and should be encouraged. There is however a higher level of spirituality and this is what occurs when a person allows the ruah, the Spirit of God to relate to them, be in them and give life to them. Some consider that when this occurs the person is not simply alive but also creates and brings life as well.
Christians recognise that spirituality involves the whole person and the entirety of life. This idea is supported by the Bible in that the human person in not dualistic in nature but an integrated whole or embodied person. Importantly spirituality is centred primarily on the positive transformation of a person’s life through experience, interaction and a living relationship with God.
For the Christian spirituality is doing those things that will allow God greater freedom and control in their own life so that they may be shaped by God’s spirit to be both fully alive and life giving. This includes all aspect of life such as work, prayer, worship, service and family life.
“Spirituality … arises from a creative and dynamic synthesis of faith and life, forged in the crucible of the desire to live out the Christian faith authentically, responsibly, effectively, and fully” – Alister McGrath, Christian Spirituality, p. 9
What is Anglican Spirituality?
The Anglican Church has its own particular spiritual character, its own way of engaging with God’s spirit in life. Some of the key aspects include:
Liturgical and Biblical: lex orandi, lex credendi. The way you pray and worship shapes the way you believe. Grounded in common, communal, daily prayer (Morning Prayer, Noonday prayer, Evening Prayer, Compline of the Book of Common Prayer)
Sacramental: The sacraments provide “doors” or “windows” to the real presence of God in the world and in creation. Anglicans view the sacraments as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.” Through Baptism we become participants in a community of faith. Through the Eucharist, we become participants in the life of God.
Incarnational: Emphasis on participation in the world and the emphasis on the goodness of creation and the physical world. The presence of God is made visible in the world.
Communal: Communal prayer is given significant emphasis and shapes personal prayer.
Pastoral: Pastoral concern and service to our neighbors flows from our prayer. Our devotion to God always leads to mission and service.
(Urban Holmes, in Chapter 9 “Spirituality” in What is Anglicanism, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, 1982)
In summary when approaching spirituality in Anglican Schools the following assumptions are made:
- All people are spiritual beings and engage the world in ways that shape their spiritual self.
- A person’s spirituality can grow and develop within the Christian tradition and beyond it.
- From an Anglican perspectives the Christian faith, founded on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best source of knowledge for the spiritual formation of people.
Why is spirituality important for teachers in Anglican Schools?
- recognised in the Bible as a fundamental aspect of human life that connects us with God, with each other and with the world.
- an important part of human well being
Spirituality is part of the human search for meaning. All of us engage in this. That search helps us to live happy and better lives.
- an important part of education.
Young people are at a formative stage of life. Schools have an important role to play in the development of their spirituality..
Spiritual development is increasingly seen as an important part of education including here in Australia. The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians states:
“Schools play a vital role in promoting the intellectual, physical, social, emotional, moral, spiritual and aesthetic development and wellbeing of young Australians, and in ensuring the nation’s ongoing economic prosperity and social cohesion.”
Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008)