What is spirituality?
The word “spirituality” has taken on different connotations in Christianity.
Originally, the word was derived from the Latin word, spiritualitas, which was used in the Pauline sense to refer to the realm of the spirit as opposed to that of the flesh (meaning sinful nature). Jewish theology and early Christian theology knew no divorce between the body and the spirit: in fact, man is a body-spirit unity, and to divorce the body from the spirit is death.
However, by the 12th century, under the influence of Greek philosophy in which corporeal things were tainted and not fit for divinity, the word “spirituality” began to be opposed to corporeality. Around the 17th C, “spirituality” was applied especially to the interior life of the individual Christian.
“Spirituality” for many Christians still consists of these later, disembodied definitions of spirituality. As I reflect on the state of much of contemporary Christianity, spirituality is primarily individual and interior.
This is not only a relatively recent way of comprehending spirituality but is also the source of a disfigured and impoverished Christianity. For many Christians today, this world is sinful and not really worth saving.
In an extreme version of this, associated with dispensationalism, I’ve heard preachers say “You don’t make the beds on the Titanic” (an alternative rendition is: “You don’t polish the brass on the Titanic.”) The implication is that this world is evil and doomed, and so why bother to save it.
Which brings me to a humorous incident involving my always entertaining brother, Paul. Paul was having a conversation with a young man about evangelism. This young man argued that evangelism was the most important thing we could do because it was the one thing we could do on earth but not in heaven. Paul thought a moment, turned to the young man, and said, “Since there’s no marriage in heaven . . . and therefore no sex . . . I guess me and my wife better get busy!”
An individualistic spirituality often results not in worship and holiness but only in narcissism. I go to church or pray because of what I get from God. Or I read the Bible primarily about what it means to me, not what it means to the Church or what it teaches about God.
An individualistic spirituality can lead to the “Just me and Jesus” syndrome, where I’m the center of the world, can worship God anywhere and in any way, without the bother of other Christians. tithing, etc.
As far as in interior and non-corporeal spirituality, the truth is that we always worship with our bodies, even in prayer, the most ethereal aspect of spirituality. Even in prayer, we pray using space, posture, breathing, brain, etc.
How could the body be a distraction to spirituality, irrelevant to it, or of less value than the human spirit, when God made a point of taking into Himself all of human nature, including a body? And He calls His people, His Temple – “The Body of Christ.”
(And, no, when you get to heaven, you won’t be floating on clouds as a disembodied spirit for eternity, sprouting wings and playing a harp. OK, maybe the bit about playing the harp.)
Let me conclude this post with 3 Propositions about True Christian Spirituality:
- God created the world good, and it is still fundamentally good, although tragically marred by sin and evil.
- God is going to redeem the world and create a New Heavens and New Earth, and not simply scrap the world and mankind.
- True spirituality involves the whole man: body, mind, soul, and the social dimension of the Church.
Next time, I’ll finally offer my definition of true spirituality.
Caspar the Friendly Ghost – Free clipart