Spirituality describes the inner orientation of one’s life. One may live for self (possibly a form of narcissism) or for a fragmented (and idolized) portion of the universe. Beyond a self-centered life, one may choose to live for others. This has been described as humanism. Many others find spirituality in terms of religious faith. Some religions appeal to many gods and are polytheistic. Those who center their spirituality in one God are called theists. Thus, all “isms” are “spiritualities” of sorts.
Some assume or conclude that their church, temple, synagogue, or shrine is the one true religion, their beliefs the only true faith, and their mode of worship and prayer the only genuine spirituality—and consequently all others to be false faith and spirituality. Some see spirituality as a strictly personal matter—all the world’s “spiritualities” should be respected. Still others may see their faith, church and spirituality as right or best for them, enabling them to be open to, respect, and even learn from other faiths and spiritual styles.
We sense that beyond studying the beliefs of various faiths, understanding their spirituality—how they pray and worship—is beneficial. Through earnest dialogue and observation, one can come to appreciate one’s own spirituality more fully.
Judeo-Christian spirituality centers itself in God, the ultimate reality. Judeo-Christian spirituality describes ways of relating to God, serving others, and finding personal wholeness and a beloved community. The desert Fathers in the early Christian centuries describe spirituality as: being yourself, serving or praying for others, and remembering God.
In contrast to Jewish and Islamic faith and spirituality, Christian spirituality begins with the initiative of a Triune God. Christians see themselves as relating to one God… as Father/Creator, Son/Revealer-Redeemer, and Holy Spirit/Healer-Enabler. This is a God who was forever relating, family, and community. And out of Triune relationship this Creator desires relationships with creatures who freely choose to accept divine love. Within Christianity, there are a variety of occasions or means by which a person moves toward salvation and spirituality: from personal crisis, physical or emotional healing, special friendships, group experience, liturgy, retreats, teaching, service, community fellowship, and more. For some God the Father is central at first, for others, Jesus Christ or perhaps the Holy Spirit. Hopefully all come to see themselves centered, instead of on self, on the Blessed Trinity: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
The many differing approaches and emphases of spirituality in Christendom therefore include those that are church-centered, Bible-centered, God the Father or Creator-centered, Jesus-centered, Holy Spirit-centered, evangelism-centered, mission-centered, and more.
It is not our differences, but the need of spiritual centering in our busy digital and consumptive world, that has led to greater current discussions of spirituality and spiritual formation, the nurturing of spirituality. Our culture has given much attention to physical and emotional health. Mentoring and coaching have helped people achieve business and management skills. Spiritual formation seeks ways in which our spirits, the core of our being can flourish. It directs our attention toward a relationship where hurts may be healed and stunted or oppressed growth liberated—where stagnant spirits may flourish.
Being oneself, as the Fathers taught, is realizing all God created one to be, all Christ redeemed one to be, and all the Holy Spirit empowers one to be. It entails becoming all that baptism marked one to be. It implies leaving all that hinders this realization as one is crucified, buried, and risen with the Savior. This spirituality is freedom to be all that one is meant to be in the Spirit.
Christian spirituality is a life for God and others, the Christ life. It is proof that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Increasingly, the object of prayer is to see God and to lift others to Him. We need, not only to talk, whisper or cry to God, we need to listen to our Loving and merciful God. “Be still and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10) “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15) “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14: 14) Most of us have had few models and little instruction on listening prayer.
There is no better advice to the one who would be spiritual than to remember God. Do not strive for a “spiritual life” rather, nurture a relationship with God. The Creator wants friendship and love.
To help anyone grow in spirituality, observe how she/he, at their particular age and situation, relates to closest love objects. Adolescents are very relational; young adults begin to think of a lasting relationship. It is easy to study their relationships. They can soon understand faith as a personal relationship. There is, of course, great varieties and ranges of adolescent growth and maturity. Parents and youth pastors should be knowledgeable and sensitive to adolescent development and differences—and open to different paths to faith and spirituality.
Aspects of spirituality include: how to pray (relate and converse with God), how to worship (celebrate, give thanks and offering), how to share (fellowship, grow into a community of trust and concern), and how to serve (exercise gifts and love). Of course, belief has a great deal to do with spirituality. Beyond common sense and basic knowledge, faith and spiritual development have many subtle nuances. Find basic truths in your faith community, in Scripture as they have been interpreted, in the historic life of the Church, and as they are being experienced in the genuine experience and integrity of individuals around you.
A common ground for spiritual formation may be found in the Psalms, the prayer and hymnbook of Jesus and pious Jews, the daily chants of monastics, and a central part of morning and evening prayer throughout history. Careful reading and meditation of Psalms like 46, 131, 62, and 42, individually or in small groups, are great paths to spiritual formation.
“Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10, most versions
“Lord, my heart is not proud…. I have stilled and quieted myself just as a small child is quiet with its mother….” Psalm 131: 1-2, NLT
“For God alone my soul in silence waits;
from him comes my salvation
For God alone my soul in silence waits;
truly, my hope is in him. Psalm 62: 1,8, BCP
“As the deer pants for living streams of water,
so I long for you, O God
I thirst for the living God….Why am I discouraged?
Why so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again,
my Savior and my God! Psalm 42: 1-2a, 5, LVT
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. Do you think this article could introduce a profitable discussion about spirituality and spiritual formation? What suggestions do you have for a more effective introduction?
2. Do you think spirituality can flourish as a strictly individual experience, or is spirituality, as this article suggests, necessarily a communal experience? Would you suggest that genuine spirituality must be both intensely individual in relationship to others and the Divine?
3. In your opinion is our hook-up culture antithetical to real spirituality? Why or why not? What about our digital culture? Are there societal trends that both hurt and help spiritual development?
4. What has been most helpful in fostering your spirituality? What do you sense to be the greatest impediments to the flourishing of your spirituality?
5. How might deeper and more satisfying spirituality be best encouraged among you and your friends?
6. Would you appreciate having a spiritual advisor or director? Would a small group of trusted friends committed to encouraging and holding one another accountable be helpful?
There is a growing interest in contemplative, religious music, the music of nuns and monks—among young and older people. There is also a growing discovery of ancient practices among churches that are more “modern” in their style and approach.
Many in our busy and noisy societies are longing for a calm and quiet spirituality. There is a desire to bring transcendence into our every day lives.
Among the many roles of a youth leader, may one be that of a spiritual advisor.
The spiritual advisor of young people must combine a theological and psychological understanding of spirituality with sensitivity and an intuitive sense of where his or her young friends are in their life and faith development.
There is some conservative reaction against the spiritual formation movement important to note. At this link you will find strong affirmation of the spiritual formation movement from noted leaders (accessed 14Aug/13) Pursuing the site further you will find their concerns and criticisms. While acknowledging extremes and needs for balance in any movement, most people of faith agree orthodox spiritual formation is needed. There is no reason why spiritual formation cannot be biblically based and true to Christian Creeds. Spiritual formation and its ancient practices should not deter but encourage effective evangelism and social action.
There is perhaps no greater harm one can do than to (as Jesus put it) “cause one of these young ones to stumble” in the matter of their life orientation and perspective. New cults that control and abuse followers continue to spring up. On the other hand, many in positions to be mentors shrink back from spiritual encouragement and advice.
Advice from those with no desire to control and who put all decisions back on those seeking deeper spirituality is greatly appreciated. There is no greater gift one can give than to help a young friend-at that particular age when parents and pastors may be least effective-to find a centering of his or her being and wholeness of life in God.