We had our first Spirituality Café last night. A lovely group met at the local restaurant Shine Café (1548 Fort Street). The conversation was lively, stimulating and challenging. I was struck and moved by the openness, honesty, and even vulnerability in a group including participants some of whom had never met before.
Our beginning question was “Is spirituality the last refuge for those who don’t have the courage to face the pain of life?” I read the famous quote from Karl Marx in which he states that religion is “the opium of the people,” and where he goes on to say that the critique of religion calls on us “to give up a condition that requires illusions.”
Marx’s use of the term “religion” led to the question of whether religion and spirituality are the same thing, which gradually began to morph into the question of whether the two are even compatible.
This gave rise to a request to define what exactly we mean when we speak of “spirituality,” which strikes me as a good question to pose to a “Spirituality” Café. I remembered that I once collected a few definitions of “spirituality.” I went hunting for them on an old computer and found quite a list that I will include at the bottom of this post.
We talked about the common designation with which so many people today identify calling themselves “spiritual but not religious.” We wondered whether religion could have a positive contribution to make to a person’s spiritual life or whether religion would always be a drag on spirituality.
We certainly did not resolve anything in our discussion. But resolving anything was never the point. The point was to see if a group of disparate people could gather in a neutral venue and speak openly and honestly about their spirituality. We certainly demonstrated that it is possible to have quite worthwhile conversation about spirituality and open to one another without tension or disharmony. My one concern is whether we would be able to sustain this atmosphere in a larger and more diverse group than we had last night.
We voted on four suggestions for our next Spirituality Café. The question that got the most votes was, “What are the values that are essential to an authentic spirituality?” Although the question was my suggestion, it strikes me now as rather lame and not adequately provocative. I wonder how it might be formed to generate a little more interest. Perhaps we could ask, “Who are you to tell me what my spirituality should look like?”
Our next Spirituality Café is scheduled for Wednesday May 19 7:30 p.m. at Shine Café (1548 Forth Street).
Following are some reflections I have culled from various sources on how we might define spirituality. I’m not sure they lead to a coherent definition of the term, but would be happy to hear suggestions of a concise “spirituality” definition anyone might have to offer.
Merton, Thomas. Spiritual Direction and Meditation. Collegeville, Minnesota:
The Liturgical Press, 1960.
spiritual life is not just the life of the mind, or of the affections, or of the “summit of the soul” – it is the life of the whole person…It means that in all his actions he is free from the superficial automatism of conventional routine. It means that in all that he does he acts freely, simply, spontaneously, from the depths of his heart, moved by love. 6,7
McFague, Sallie. Super, Natural Christians: How we should love nature. Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 1997.
Spirituality is developing the attention to, awareness of, knowledge about, the other (whether another person, a lifeform or entity in nature, God, or even the self) so that one can respond to that other appropriately. 10
Welwood, John. Love and Awakening: Discovering the Sacred Path of Intimate
Relationship. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
As soon as we look beyond both duty and pleasure for a deeper meaning and purpose in relationships today, we start to move in the direction of the sacred, which we could define as coming into deeper connection with our true, essential nature, behind all our masks and facades. xiii
The essence of spiritual work is to realize and continually reorient ourselves toward our being, our absolute nature; and this is what leads to ultimate freedom. 53
McGinn, Bernard ed. Christian Spirituality: Origins To The Twelfth Century. New
York: Crossroad, 1985.
“Introduction” Christian spirituality is the lived experience of Christian belief in both its general and more specialized forms…. It is possible to distinguish spirituality from doctrine in that it concentrates not on faith itself, but on the reaction that faith arouses in religious consciousness and practice. It can likewise be distinguished from Christian ethics in that it treats not all human actions in their relation to God, but those acts in which the relation to God is immediate and explicit. xv,xvi
Cunningham, Lawrence S. & Keith J. Egan. Christian Spirituality: Themes from the
Tradition. New York: Paulist Press, 1996.
that dimension or dimensions of human experience which provide the spiritual aspect of our lives by enriching and giving “thickness” to our ordinary experience. 6
Christian spirituality is the lived encounter with Jesus Christ in the Spirit. In that sense, Christian spirituality is concerned not so much with the doctrines of Christianity as with the ways those teachings shape us as individuals who are part of the Christian community who live in the larger world. 7
McGrath, Alister. Evangelicalism and The Future of Christianity. Downers Grove: IVP, 1995.
In its fundamental sense, spirituality is concerned with the shaping, empowering and maturing of the ‘spiritual person’ (I Cor 2:14,15) – that is, the person alive to and responsive to God in the world, as opposed to the person who merely exists within and responds to the world. 125
Williams, Rowan. On Christian Theology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2000.
The grammar of our talk about the Holy Spirit is not that proper to ‘God’ as source, ground, terminus of vision and prayer, and so forth, nor that proper to ‘God’ as the disturbing presence of grace and vulnerability within the world of human relationships as a particular focal story. It is the grammar of ‘spirituality’ in the fullest sense of that emasculated word, the grammar of the interplay in the human self between the given and the future, between reality as it is and the truth which encompasses it; between Good Friday and Easter. If there can be any sense in which ‘Spirit’ is a bridge-concept, its work is not to bridge the gap between God and the world or even between the Word and the human soul, but to span the unimaginably greater gulf between suffering and hope, and to do so by creating that form of human subjectivity capable of confronting suffering without illusion but also without despair. 124