Monday, March 23, 2009

What Is Spirituality?

Spirituality is a hot topic today. But what is it? There seems to be as many different answers to that question as there are books on the subject. In fact, each of us probably has a different definition. So, please join me in the task of discerning the meaning of spirituality.

It’s difficult to describe our relationship with God. In part, because each of us has a different kind of relationship with the Holy One. Plus, every relationship changes and evolves over time. The way we experience God today might be different than a few years ago. This varying and ongoing quest to be open to and in relationship with Holy One is what I understand as the spiritual journey.

The one constant factor in this dynamic relationship is God’s continual presence in our lives. Each of us is saturated and filled with the present of the Holy One. God surrounds us and is within us at every moment of our lives. As Acts 17:28 says, "In God we live, move and have our being." Therefore, I understand spirituality as the connection each of us has with the Divine. Admittedly, sometimes we feel more connected to God – sometimes less. But the connection is always the same for God. The following story describes this understanding of our relationship with God well:
There was once a son of a rabbi who would only pray and meditate in the woods. One day, the rabbi asked her son, "Why do you come outside to look for God, when God is the same everywhere?" Her son thought for a moment and then said, "I know God is the same everywhere, but I am not. So, I go into the woods so I can give God a chance!"
This story illustrates my understanding of spiritual formation. It is God’s connection and activity that does the transforming work in our lives. But we are not always receptive to that connection. Marjorie Thompson says that spiritual formation should help us "attune ourselves to the gentle stirrings of the Spirit within and around us." In other words, we need to live our lives in ways that are more mindfully attuned to God. For the rabbi’s son, that meant being outdoors. Each of us will find our attuning in different ways. No matter one's individual spiritual style, what matters is practicing being open to the presence of God in our daily lives. Or in other words, purposefully paying attention to God. This can be done through worship, prayer, meditation, contemplation, daily devotionals, serving others, lectio divina, walking a labyrinth, watching a beautiful sunset, etc.

The best way practice discerning God’s presence and activity in our life is by trying out a spiritual practice. There is no “better” or “correct” practice. Each one is effective to different people. The important thing is to explore the practices until we find the one that helps us experience the transforming presence of the Holy One. God is still speaking – even in the common, ordinary everydayness of life. Spiritual practices can help us listen to that continually beckoning Voice.

One way that I practice “listening” to the Holy One is through music. So, I’ll offer the following lyrics as one possible way to "attune ourselves to the gentle stirrings of the Spirit within and around us."

"Holy Now" by Peter Mayer

When I was a boy, each week
On Sunday, we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest
He would read the holy word
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now

Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

When I was in Sunday school
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad
That miracles don’t happen still
But now I can’t keep track
‘Cause everything’s a miracle

Everything, everything
Everything’s a miracle

Wine from water is not so small
But an even better magic trick
Is that anything is here at all
So the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn’t one

When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now

Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

Read a questioning child’s face
And say it’s not a testament
That’d be very hard to say
See another new morning come
And say it’s not a sacrament
I tell you that it can’t be done

This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now

It used to be a world half-there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now

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