What Does It Mean to Be Spiritual?

Are you spiritual? That’s a question that gets bandied about quite a bit these days. But what does it mean? For some it means that you “believe in God,” (as broadly defined or undefined as possible), but you don’t identify yourself as part of a particular religious tradition so that you are, by default, spiritual. For some spiritual is an attitude or bearing you have in life, one exemplified by the nuns in Sound of Music (not Maria) – you know, folded hands, peaceful countenance. But perhaps the most pernicious definition is a person who is trying to escape from the realities of this life. I grant that the image of a guy in his underwear sitting on top a mountain lends itself to such an interpretation, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The spiritual person is not seeking to escape reality; the spiritual person is seeking to engage reality, to uncover falsehood, peal back the illusions that keep us separate from what is real, the Divine presence.
So much of what we call “reality” is simply the illusion that we are isolated one from another and separate from the presence of a God who acts upon our lives. That isolation breeds fear and all its attendant response. Separate from God we play the victim in a sometimes cruel world, wondering why God is doing this or doing that. Or maybe we just write the whole thing off; it doesn’t make any sense anyway. But so many then find themselves in a spiritual wasteland, dissatisfied and yearning for something real.
The spiritual person though is discovering that none of this is real. The spiritual person is discovering the nature of God inseparable from the human spirit. The Hindus call it the union of Brahmin, the essence of Divinity, and Atman, the essence of humanity. God does not act upon us but rather God’s Spirit unfolds creation from within. John Calvin saw that the human spirit and the Divine spirit are both inseparable and distinct. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave helped humanity to see that what is visible to us is not what is real, it is a reflection of what’s real. When we are spiritual, we engage creation imbued with the Spirit of God.
How then shall we be spiritual? There are many ways, many paths as they say. Meditation is one approach to be sure, but it is not the entry point for everyone. Some encounter the face of God in another. We can recognize the presence of the one that unites all things when we look into the eyes of a child while serving lunch in the local community center. Others can be spiritual as the read Scientific American – not just read it for content, but read it with open eyes seeking the presence of God the permeates all things. The truth is, we can’t not be spiritual, we can only ignore what is real – and we’ve been doing enough of that don’t you think?

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About Sam Alexander

Sam Alexander is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and also serves as Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

  • http://www.spiritofthescripture.com/blog Joshua Tilghman

    So true. Our realities, as interpreted from our egos, is the illusion. However when we go beyond the ego we can see the Divine presence in all of life. Thanks for the great post!

  • Fred Garvin

    Religion is boring.

    • Mike Dombrowski


      Religion is boring though knowing how spiritual laws work is very interesting! Everyone is spiritual and following spiritual laws, weather they know it or not. You can use them to your benefit or destruction.

  • Sufian Chaudhary

    Though it may not be all real, there are certain aspects of our ‘illusion’ that are more than real. For example the love in our hearts or the energy that comprises our soul. Materialism and denser materials really have no significance or true weighting beyond what we can see with our physical eyes, it takes quite a few lifetimes for people to realize the nature of where they. Strangely enough the ‘entry point’ for most people may not necessarily be meditation, but rather religion. It is where we first heard the name “God”, before this there wasn’t much. To then go forward and experience something spiritual would be to establish why it is we should be following a more spiritual path than a strictly religious. These personal experiences come in many shapes and forms, all acting to help us realize our connection to God.

  • kalim

    Hi Sam

    Said Nursi had proved the existence of God in his books.
    I want to share some part From Risalei Nur collection by Said Nursi (23th word)

    Man is such an antique work of art of Almighty God. He is a most subtle and graceful miracle of His power whom He created to manifest all his Names and their inscriptions, in the form of a miniature specimen of the universe. If the light of belief enters his being, all the meaningful inscriptions on him may be read. As one who believes, he reads them consciously, and through that relation, causes others to read them. That is to say, the dominical art in man becomes apparent through meanings like, “I am the creature and artefact of the All-Glorious Maker. I manifest His mercy and munificence.” That is, belief, which consists of being connected to the Maker, makes apparent all the works of art in man. Man’s value is in accordance with that dominical art and by virtue of being a mirror to the Eternally Besought One. In this respect insignificant man becomes God’s addressee and a guest of the Sustainer worthy of Paradise superior to all other creatures.
    However, should unbelief, which consists of the severance of the relation, enter man’s being, then all those meaningful inscriptions of the Divine Names are plunged into darkness and become illegible. For if the Maker is forgotten, the spiritual aspects which look to Him will not be comprehended, they will be as though reversed. The majority of those meaningful sublime arts and elevated inscriptions will be hidden. The remainder, those that may be seen with the eye, will be attributed to lowly causes, nature, and chance, and will become utterly devoid of value. While they are all brilliant diamonds, they become dull pieces of glass. His importance looks only to his animal, physical being. And as we said, the aim and fruit of his physical being is only to pass a brief and partial life as the most impotent, needy, and grieving of animals. Then it decays and departs. See how unbelief destroys human nature, and transforms it from diamonds into coal.

  • Kristen B

    Spirituality is a very personal thing–developing your relationship with God should be a lifelong quest.
    I always try to strive and be as Christ like as possible in my daily life. This helps me remember what Christ is all about (at least to me)–finding the beauty in life and extending a hand to everyone I can that faces more difficult struggles than I.
    It reminds me of this video I recently came across– it’s a cute little song about how Jesus and his followers actually Occupy Jerusalem.
    Anyways, here it is: http://youtu.be/a6akkb_afqs
    Which, it has a point.

  • SparklingMoon

    The Reformer of the time has explained the meanings of to be Spiritual in the following words:

    ”when man’s natural faculties and desires and urges are consciously regulated and controlled and are brought into action on their proper occasions and places,they become moral qualities. In the same way, moral conditions are not entirely distinct from spiritual conditions. When moral conditions develop absolute devotion to God and complete purification of self and, cutting asunder from the world, turn wholly to God and to perfect love and complete devotion and full serenity and satisfaction and complete accord with the Divine will, they become spiritual conditions.
    So long as his natural conditions are not converted into moral conditions, man deserves no praise, inasmuch as they are to be found in other animates and even in solids also. In the same way the mere acquisition of moral qualities does not bestow spiritual life upon a person. A person who denies the existence of God can yet exhibit good moral qualities, such as to be humble of heart, to seek peace, to discard evil and not to resist the evil-monger. These are all natural conditions which may be possessed even by one who is utterly unacquainted with the fountain head of salvation and enjoys no part of it. I cannot accept that these natural conditions can be regarded as moral qualities or that they can serve to wash out the inner impurities which obstruct a person’s approach to God. Spirituality can be achieved only through the use of every moral quality in its proper place and on its proper occasion, and through treading faithfully upon the ways of God and through being wholly devoted to Him. He who becomes truly God’s cannot exist without Him.”(Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam by Mirza Ghulam Ahmed. P -19,20)

  • Khalua Bates

    I agree with you Mike, religion is boring, because it contains too many man made laws and regulations, but Spiritual laws
    is the best because it contains God’s laws which is eternal life. John 10:10

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