Monday, April 19, 2010

Making Sense of Spirituality

Today I facilitated a little session with colleagues at work on 'spirituality and helping work'. As part of the conversation I shared with them five points about spirituality in general that occurred to me as I prepared the session (by no means an exhaustive list). It struck me that our meaning making about this concept of spirituality is coloured by a number of things including our personal experience and preferences as well as traditions and communities that we link to. Spirituality is such a broad term and challenging to make sense of given we enter into territory that is a bit hidden from view, often beyond words.

There seems an ever increasing interest in the helping fields about spirituality given its potential to improve people's quality of life and enable helpers (in all forms) to be fully present and discerning.

So here goes (you'll note my reflections contain both contemporary and traditional elements):

A. Spirituality is not easily articulated by human language. However certain words can help point to what we might be referring to: love, compassion, wisdom, connection, interior, silence, life, death, ultimate reality, solitude, community, sacrament, justice, present moment, journeying, land, earth, faith, hope, peace, mindfulness, stillness, presence.

B. Spirituality is usually more aptly expressed through poetry, prose, story, prayer, art, music, ritual, silence...once we move into explanations of ultimate reality we are in the territory of theology, philosophy and science though the boundaries are not black and white and nor do we want them to be.

C. Spirituality usually privileges experience over everything else. Some writers contrast spirituality and religion. Religion is usually envisioned by these writers as hierarchical, structured, institutional, patriarchal and often oppressive of spirituality. While there is some truth to this all religious expressions have at their core an initial life experience(s) that has inspired their development.

D. There can be two important generalisable movements or experiences in spirituality: i) one takes us outwards beyond the confines of our selves, culture, nation, world and ii) the other takes us inward to our inner experience as human beings e.g. the daily interior life. Spirituality can be said to have universal & transcendent as well as personal & immanent qualities. These movements can occur simultaneously or separately but they are often interwoven together; for some people even becoming an indistinguishable experience.

E. Spirituality can be seen as all-encompassing, in other words it invites an attitude of openness to our whole of life experience as individuals, communities, our common humanity. For example spirituality can be experienced in suffering and joy, life and death, mystery and knowledge, words and silence, knowing and unknowing, sense and intuition, relationship and solitude, longing and belonging, success and failure, religion and science, presence and absence and so on.

How do you make sense of this intriguing term spirituality?