Spirituality is either a practice or a desire. People can claim to be “spiritual rather than religious.” That’s alright as far as that goes. The people who desire spirituality tend to look for spiritual experiences or sudden awakenings. People who practice spirituality find it does not differ much from religion. There is a reason for this. The following 4 Spiritual Foundations are important considerations for people who desire spirituality. If it is anything, spirituality is another form of learning. The spiritual practitioner is learning by experience.
I do not hang my hat on spiritual experiences. Whatever awakening I feel, I can later talk myself out of it. Truth is more important to me than ephemeral experiences. Neurologists know there are certain areas of the human brain that respond to when people perform religious rites or meditate or have experiences. A Pentecostal speaking in tongues and a Buddhist monk meditating responds the same way. Experiences may even be coaxed by stimulating the right areas of the brain.
Truth is not personal. It is objective and communal. Religious communities share ideas and thoughts. Truth is greater than ideas or thoughts. The modern world allowed for a different kind of tested experience (experiment) with repeated results being the standard of fact. A theory is testable. A religious or spiritual experience may be. But does not have to be.
12 Step Recovery programs believe an experience of recovery comes from putting the spiritual principles that underlie the steps into practice. The truth is found in the work.
People, especially Progressive Christians, like to believe they are open minded and open hearted. Often though our feeling of openness is not demonstrated. Total openness is not healthy. Moving out of one’s comfort zone is very healthy. There are a number of spiritual claims I dismiss. But I only do that after I tested them. The majority of these are “alternative medicines.”
I sometimes attend sessions of “Recovery Dharma.” It is a recovery program from a Buddhist perspective. I enjoy the experiences of atmosphere, community, and the emphasis on meditation. The latter is a welcome break from the spoken “sharing” of 12 Step Programs. Meditation is an attempt to be still. The yoga pose Shavasana is stillness without trying to make yourself “be still.” The stillness and quiet is for openness.
Christian meditation is similar. The Lord’s Prayer or the “Jesus Prayer” can set the boundaries for the time of meditation. The difference for Christian meditation is to become open to the fullness of the Spirit of God from Christ. As one whose primary practice is Christian spirituality, I find the Spirit of God in many places.
Where does one begin? It is simple. Take a breath. Let it out. The Hebrew and Greek words we translate as “spirit” is the same word in each of those languages as “breath.” Am I saying that breathing spiritual practice? No. Breathing is for survival. Paying attention to one’s breath is a convenient focus. The Biblical writers understood connections between spirit, breath, a creative force. Wind can be gentle or fierce. In either case it is powerful.
Paying attention to one’s breath is the beginning of calmness from anxiety or stillness for meditation. Conscious breathing is the first step to be spiritual. Breath is a need. There is no getting around that truth. And the air passages of the body must be open to it.
I can imagine people who desire spiritual experiences now wondering if they can’t find someone to stimulate that area of the brain. Some day that sort of service may be offered. But no one would learn anything from them. Discipline is an attitude of intentional action. How we pray, meditate, and read scripture is informed by what we eat, how we exercise, sleep, and treat other people.
Spiritual practices require commitments of time and energy. Church people have heard the doctrines of Martin Luther. But they never heard that his life was as busy as theirs. Luther claimed he was so busy he couldn’t afford not praying. He was intentional in his practice. He did not assume he would absorb some spiritual energy by doing his work.
Spiritual practices are personal. But they are not full unless some type of community is involved. You may be part of a prayer group, recovery program, or an online meeting for spiritual action. John Wesley is called the “founder of Methodism.” The truth is that Methodism had a group of founders. They were the members of the Holy Club Wesley took part in during his College years. They prayed, read scripture together, and performed acts of compassion.
Spirituality is a way learning to see what one has until now only guessed at. Life can be hard. Being spiritual does not make it any less so. But spirituality teaches a person to cope with it.