The word “spiritual” is thrown about a good bit these days. But what does it really mean?
This is one of those terms that we use thinking that we all have a common understanding as to what we are talking about when the truth is, we don’t. It’s like the word “God” – it means different things to different people depending upon their worldview.
Here is what Wikipedia currently says “spirituality” means: “the term spirituality lacks a definitive definition, although social scientists have defined spirituality as the search for ‘the sacred’, where the ‘the sacred’ is broadly defined as that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration.”
Does that clear it up for you? Probably not. The reason it lacks a “definitive definition”, again, is because that “search for the sacred” varies based on how we look at life. Let’s run through the three primary worldviews at play in Western culture to put some context around this.
Those with the traditional viewpoint, represented by individuals who are socially conservative and hold strong conventional religious beliefs, typically make little distinction between being “religious” and being “spiritual”. Their search for the sacred is anchored in the teachings of their faith. For most Christians, this means a strong belief in the Bible being the inerrant word of God, that we were born into this ordinary life where we are sinners and that the Bible, and most importantly expressing faith and “accepting” Jesus so as to absolve us of our sins are all essential parts in our search for the sacred.
Those with the rational-materialistic viewpoint, represented by individuals who place their faith in science and the accumulation of wealth, also typically make little distinction being “religious” and being “spiritual”. Both words are representative of some kind of “nonmaterial” world that there is just not sufficient scientific evidence for us to establish its validity. Their “search for the sacred” is really a search for scientific understanding as to how this material universe works.
Those with the humanistic/postmodern viewpoint, represented by the so-called cultural creatives who see life as about human equality and honoring the earth, clearly make a distinction between “religious” and “spiritual”. In fact, one of the key factors of this worldview is that these individuals consider themselves “spiritual but not religious”. To them, to be religious means to follow the dogma of a traditional faith path. To be spiritual means to find your own path in your search for the sacred.
Three different worldviews – three different ways in which they “search for the sacred”.
In their book The New Universe and the Human Future, authors Nancy Ellen Abrams and Joel Primack use the scientific story of the evolution of the universe as the backdrop for us to move towards a shared creation story. In their book, they offer a definition of spirituality that really resonated with me. They see it as “experiencing our true connection to all that exists.”
I like that. No matter what our worldview, that definition seems to fit.
I also like these words from 20th century mystic and spiritual teacher Ernest Holmes. He wrote, “there is no stagnation in Spirit, nor should there be any in our idea of spirituality. To be spiritual is to create! The Spirit is alive, conscious, aware and active.”
So here is the interesting interconnection that I see in regards to our investigation into the meaning of what it means to be “spiritual”. No matter what our worldview, there is some call within each of us that pushes us on a search for meaning, for the sacred, for understanding.
Depending upon our worldview, the search can take us into traditional religions, into scientific understandings, or into seeking our own path to truth. The search can take us externally into life seeking truth and the sacred “out there” or it can take us internally looking for the divine in the sacred within us. Yet no matter where we search, we are all called to an experience of our true connection to all that exists.
We should place no limits on what it means to be “spiritual” nor any idea of spirituality. The power that urges us along our search is alive and well within each of us. It’s in me. It’s in you. It’s in everyone you meet. The fact that our individual searches for the sacred appear differently to others is only an indication that there is no stagnation in Spirit. The fact that we are all on a search for the sacred binds us in oneness. We are all creative and we are all spiritual in our own beautiful and perfect way!
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!