Now here is a new voice to Catholica exploring a topic that we often visit in our community from a fresh perspective. Emmy Silvius is a lay theologian working in the social services area and has a passion for social justice. From a previous discussion on Catholica Emmy found a pdf document of an address given by Dr David Tacey in 2003 to a group of Religious Educators arguing that Spirituality and Religion are becoming disconnected and they need to be reconnected. (Emmy provides a link to that in her footnotes and David Tacey's paper is also worth revisiting). What Emmy Silvius is essentially arguing in her commentary is how religion and spirituality might be reconnected. Spirituality is not just a selfish, individualistic pursuit, it has a community aspect. As she says in her opening line: "Spirituality is about connecting from the heart"!
What is spirituality?
Spirituality is about connecting from the heart. Our bodily existence is entwined and lifted up by a spiritual life that allows us to know ourselves in the depths of our being and to recognise God as the very life-source of our being. In fact, as human beings we bear in ourselves the seed of eternity. As a consequence, we know death is not the end of our existence; we are destined to a life with God that transcends the boundaries of our earthly struggle.
By opening ourselves up to more aspects of life we are able to relate in a deeper way to what happens in our lives. Spirituality is all that gives meaning and depth to what we do and say. It brings an extra dimension to our personality that requires our attention to help it grow and is most rewarding as it forms a platform from which we can reflect all life's experiences. It is the one factor that can help us make sense of who we are and what our purpose is in life. Spirituality is what allows us to transcend our human existence, to expect surprises and wonders of the Spirit. It is attending to everyday moments in our lives; connecting to that something 'other' that is beyond ourselves.
Spirituality also transcends the limitations of time and space in order for us to become the best human beings we can be. This is transformation, and transformation lies at the heart of spirituality. Spirituality is about getting in touch with the soul. Our soul is not something we have, it is something we are. The soul can be considered that part of us where God speaks to us. It is like a candle that needs to be kept alight. To achieve this we need people around with whom we can share our deepest feelings; opportunities to hear and read about other people's journeys in life; and prayer which is really dialogue with the divine through listening with the heart. A spiritual person takes note of all experience — they are in touch with the real questions of life as they rise out of their joys and sorrows. Spirituality is what shapes our actions.
There have been and still are many different 'spiritualities'. Some forms of spirituality within the Catholic Church are the Benedictine, Carmelite, Franciscan and Jesuit spiritualities. These particular spiritualities are based upon the specific insights and experiences of the founders of these individual groups. The Jesuits, for example, practice Ignatian spirituality for which main focus is to seek God in all things. Also reciting the rosary or other devotional prayers to Mary, the mother of Jesus, or any of the saints is a form of spirituality within the Catholic Church.
A different kind of spirituality is, for example, that of the Native Americans who have a great affinity with nature. They believe they are connected to the earth and all living things (plants, animals, stars and moon) and are part of the greater cosmos. Their spirituality consists of living in balance and harmony with nature. The same can be said of indigenous people from Asia, Australia and South America. Our presence on the earth is a gift (not a right) and as such we have a responsibility to all living creatures to nurture our environment.
What is the link between spirituality and religion?
Without spirituality there is no basis for faith communities. Religion refers to the organisational, the ritual, and the ideological. On the one hand, religion often sets limitations and focuses on the system rather than the growth of the individual. It consists of authoritarian rules and rituals. It can be the source of upheaval, war and hatred especially amongst those who proclaim to have the one true religion. Formal religion can be the cause of our losing connection with our spiritual roots, which basically means that our head and our heart don't communicate. On the other hand, practicing religion can provide us with the community that we need to help us interpret our spiritual experiences and encourage and guide us to explore these further.
Divine Truth comes from our personal experience; an experience between myself and the 'other', which is followed by owning the experience and then reflecting on it. We then need a community of faith to discern this spiritual experience. A structured church can give us the boundaries to hold on to our identity, but is it creative enough in its opening up to exploring today's spirituality needs? "It is not enough to just hear about wisdom through external sources, rather, we want to feel wisdom arising from our own hearts, and see truth emerging from our own experience."
Most religious authorities are not communicating with people who are on spiritual journeys, instead they have the tendency to close themselves off from the wider community and place more emphasis on church doctrine. However, the realisation of many that living in our world today has nothing to do with being materialistic, that there is more to life than one can see is a fantastic opportunity for the churches to reach out and present the means to further explore this 'search for meaning'.
Though institutional religion is often wanting for lack of understanding the needs of the people, faith in one form or another is very much alive. Just look at the number of young (and not so young) people who volunteer so much of their time to work in the service for others, who stand up for justice and genuinely care for the environment. Whether they are aware of it or not, these people are in fact spreading the reign of God.
Thus, spirituality attends to the presence of God, the mystery of life itself in everyday moments which transform us into people of peace, justice and love. In my opinion, all forms of spirituality can have a positive effect on our personal growth. It becomes negative when the focus is only directed towards the self. Spirituality is not just about caring for our own souls. It helps us become people who bring about the kingdom of God into the world in which we live.
Emmy Silvius Jan2011
What are your thoughts on this commentary?