Spirituality has a lot of different ideas associated with it. Mostly it’s associated with immaterial things (non-material). And there’s a strong emphasis on the individual, as well as achieving personal gain. Christianity has an alternate view of spirituality that merits attention – primarily because it’s not often discussed, or it’s misunderstood entirely.
Here’s a textbook definition of spirituality:
Spirituality is belief in an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop an individual’s inner life; spiritual experience includes that of connectedness with a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self; with other individuals or the human community; with nature or the cosmos; or with the divine realm. Spirituality is often experienced as a source of inspiration or orientation in life. It can encompass belief in immaterial realities or experiences of the immanent or transcendent nature of the world. (Wikipedia)
This definition is broad and thus fairly generic. There is also an emphasis on transcendence (no material things), as well as the individual self. Moreover, this definition provides significant freedoms to those practicing spirituality. There is also a “getting” or “receiving” of something from its practice whether inspiration or connectedness or otherwise. There is no mention of God. Christianity has a unique take on the matter.
Here’s a Christian perspective on spirituality. Philosopher Dallas Willard writes:
Spirituality in human beings is not an extra or ‘superior’ mode of existence. It’s not a hidden stream of separate reality, a separate life running parallel to our bodily existence. It does not consist of special ‘inward’ acts even though is has an inner aspect. It is, rather, a relationship of our embodied selves to God that has the natural and irrepressible effect of making us alive in the Kingdom of God – here and now in the material world.
Willard is making the point that true spirituality is to be lived out in the real world with God. It’s an everyday thing to be experienced in what Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of God. Jesus ushered in, and taught his students to seek the Kingdom of God. It was not a heavenly realm in the sense of something off in the clouds, and it was not a future event. Rather, it was practicing God’s way of thinking (His new creation agenda) here on earth, now.
The Christian definition is far from immaterial or transcendent. The Kingdom modeled by Jesus was down and dirty with real life – healing the sick, challenging hypocrisy, and freeing people from the bondage of their toxic lifestyle and thinking. In many ways, Christian spirituality is quite ordinary, as it can manifest itself in a grocery line or during a commute to work. Other times it’s profound as in the miracles described in biblical texts, or lived out by heroes of the faith.
In the textbook definition we have the traditional values of individualism, freedom, and perhaps even the concept of a reward system. The Christian model is a relationship with the Creator. It’s communal. Its freedom is found under God’s rule, functioning right now in the world, that all are invited to participate in. The only recognition or reward for one’s service or action comes from God.
This latter model is not sexy, it’s service oriented. It’s not new age thinking. It’s old school wisdom. It’s not individualistic. It’s relational. Its adherents have changed the world.
There’s a short two-minute video below. The audio is poor, but Willard highlights some of his points on spirituality.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson