What does it mean . . . spirituality?

We are witnessing a spiritual awakening unprecedented in modern times, according to scholars in American religious thought. In response to this awakening and the deeply human experience of longing and desire for meaning in a world that is in chaos, I offer you some insights and gleanings about ‘spirituality’ from a Christian perspective.

What do we mean by ‘spirituality’? Historically, spirituality was often equated with the so-called religious aspects of the Christian life such as prayer, penance and fasting. More recently, the meaning of spirituality has broadened. We each have unique images and thoughts about God and our relationship with God. Spirituality can be what we believe and imagine and how this influences the way we live, relate, pray and worship. Spirituality is our sense of connection to God. For many Christians, connection to God takes the form of a strong personal relationship with Christ. This spirituality is a lived experience and expression of Christian life. People have varying degrees of awareness of God and God’s presence in their lives — from a vague sense of a life force within or around them to an intimate, personal relationship with God. In his book The Holy Longing, Ron Rolheiser makes good sense of what is frequently a misunderstood word: spirituality. He writes of desire. “Inside of us, it would seem, something is at odds with the very rhythm of things and we are forever restless, dissatisfied, frustrated, and aching. There is within us a fundamental dis-ease, an unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace.” He continues, “Spirituality is, ultimately, about what we do with that desire. What we do with our longings, both in terms of handling the pain and the hope they bring us, that is our spirituality.” St. Augustine’s words: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Bruce Springsteen’s song, Everybody’s Got a Hungry Heart, echoes this reality of longing and desire.

In this longing for the sacred, the deep meaning of life, we come face to face with the Divine. “We are fired into life with a madness that comes from the gods and which would have us believe that we can have a great love, perpetuate our own seed, and contemplate the divine.” (attributed to Plato)
Our encounter with the Divine is grounded in our human experience — our everyday, ordinary experiences of life. Our spirituality, as the ‘lived relationship with Mystery,’ is simply an expression of being human. The relationship with the Divine Mystery becomes visible in the weaving of life choices, attitudes and actions. Could it be that our primary human vocation is to “wake up” to the mystery of God’s presence and action in all human experience?

One of the challenges we must face if our spirituality is to be real is to develop a spirituality that is more relevant to our age. We need to look at the basics of our religious beliefs in the light of today’s world view which is vastly different from that which shaped Christian thought in its beginnings.

Sister Rosemary completed a four-year certification program in spiritual direction sponsored by the Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center, Villa Maria, PA. She earned an M.S. in Sacred Science (Theology), and completed a two-year pastoral counseling certification program.