I hope that title shows up like I want it to. Sometimes symbols don’t work so well with WordPress titles, but this seems okay in preview. Anyway!
That’s sort of how I see spirituality when I say or hear it. All fluffy-woo-sparkly-ethereal. A meaningless buzzword people throw around to describe something almost-but-not-quite religious, rather than any specific and definable thing. (And I know that’s tied into ideas about meditation retreats and other fluffy appropriative derivations of Eastern religions, and that’s often associated with women, so I worry that this is partly because we’re conditioned to dismiss things that are primarily associated with women as flighty and unimportant. But it’s what I’ve got, and I’m working with it.) Spirituality seems to be the hobby version of religion.
I think that’s probably because we’re reducing too many things to this generalized term. Practices from various religions that might not have anything to do with each other get grouped together anyway along with this idea that religions are basically all the same and we’re all taking different paths up the same mountain. I get that this concept is aimed at understanding and accepting people of other cultures, but it also sort of erases the cultural differences and we probably should be able to move beyond that limited understanding now. (Stephen Prothero wrote a book about this that I’ve been wanting to read for awhile but keep forgetting. If you’ve read God is Not One, what did you think of it?)
Religion isn’t all the same, and religious practices don’t all have the same functions, but they’ve all been grouped under this vague term “spirituality.” (Religion’s a pretty vague word too, now that I think of it, and it’s not always clear what counts as a religion and what’s a “philosophy” or something else altogether. I wonder why it’s easier for me to take that word more seriously?)
The Wikipedia article on spirituality gives a lot of helpful examples from various religions. It mentions that “In a Biblical context the term means being animated by God, to be driven by the Holy Spirit, as opposed to a life which rejects this influence.” That makes sense. I’m guessing the word they mean there has something to do with “pneuma,” which means “breath” but also “spirit/soul.” So spirituality is being filled with the Spirit of God. Okay. But then it says that later on it became more associated with the mind, the spiritual/ideal world as opposed to the material. Okay…And then it starts talking about transcendentalism and true spirituality being based on a person’s individual experiences…then we’re onto Eastern-based ideas, and then spiritual-but-not-religious described as a movement focusing on people’s subjective experience instead of identifying with a particular religious tradition. Um.
Okay, I can probably pull all those together, but I haven’t even gotten into the actual practices yet. Still on the Wikipedia article, here are some of the examples given: reading Scripture, following religious rules, wearing certain clothes, following a particular diet, prayer, contemplation, charity, fasting, cultivating kindness, self-awareness, living a good life, and working towards the social good. Wow. That seems to fit what I find in other sources as well. During my time at seminary I picked up two books on general spirituality, 6 Jewish Spiritual Paths by Rabbi Rifat Sonsino and Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. The first lists these spiritual paths as acts of transcendence, study, prayer, meditation, ritual, and relationship/good deeds. The second lists sooooooooooo many practices I’m not even going to try, but I just noticed it does divide them into larger types – worship, opening oneself to God, relinquishing the false self, sharing one’s life with others, hearing God’s word, incarnating the love of Christ, and prayer. I’m not seeing study there so much, although to some extent I suppose it’s included with “hearing God’s word.” Otherwise, seems like a lot of overlap. I wish I had more resources for practices outside the Judeo-Christian traditions, but that’s a start. Just enough to tell me the practices are widely varied to allow everyone to find something that suits them, which means the practices themselves probably aren’t all that important.
It seems like the point of choosing a spiritual practice is to use something that speaks to who you are and how you interact with the world in order to reach beyond yourself and become more in line with some higher goal. If you were following the comments on my previous post on spirituality, you might have already seen the beginnings of my new definition:
Spirituality is the process of becoming the person you want to be and creating the world you want to inhabit.
To do that, you have to examine yourself and the world around you, figure out what about it seems best to you and what needs to change. You need to be able to share that with others, celebrate it wherever you find it, and be honest with yourself about what you personally need to change to make it happen. I’m kind of liking that first definition of being infused with Spirit, now it makes me thinking of living a full life, being true to yourself and making everything matter, not wasting time and energy. Spirituality is putting every moment to good use and trying to leave every situation better than you found it. In my own life, it might mean that I learn to stop myself when negative thoughts about my job and abilities creep up on me, turn that destructive time into planning to make things better. More time studying and cleaning and writing, no time wishing I had made different choices earlier or wondering if I could have done something else better.
That raises a lot of questions, maybe more than it answered. How do I determine my values? What do we do when the world I want and the one you want don’t mesh? What practices will best help me connect with and embody my ideal? And is there a better, less iffy word to describe that than “spirituality,” or should I instead try to de-stigmatize spirituality? Hmmmm. I look forward to finding answers to these and whatever other questions come to mind in the future.