What does spirituality mean to you?
RECENTLY I had the privilege of being able to attend a group here in town that meets to discuss and connect with spirituality.
Not a religious group, but a group that sought to explore the concept of what is the nature of spirituality, and the personal meaning for each of us.
And I found it to be an uplifting and thoughtful experience.
So often we connect spirituality with religion, and often with religion comes sets of rules set down for how to live our lives, or at least how to live a good life.
I think this is an answer to an important question: how are we to live?
Ever since human beings started having to live with one another, we have needed to formulate how we were going to get on with each other.
We have formal laws, and we have unspoken rules, all of which are meant to guide us in to acceptable means of conduct and interaction.
Of course there will be people who will argue that these rules that are set down are wrong, and will argue their case.
And over time, the rules, or at least the interpretation of those rules, will change.
In the earliest days of Western civilisation, Hammurabi enshrined the laws of the land in clay, almost symbolic of the way that we think of laws as being written in stone.
We do not have the same laws today, it would be truer to say that our laws are written in water… changing with the tides.
Yet religious law seeks to ground things in an older time, ancient sages, inspired by the divine. Yet we can still struggle to interpret these laws.
Something that is commonly spoken about is the idea that religion starts wars, or indeed religion has been responsible for starting more wars in history than anything else.
I would like to move against the fashion and actually defend religion, and dispute this.
I believe instead that religion has been used as an excuse for starting conflicts.
For most religions and most holy texts, beyond the structure of laws, there tends to be powerful messages of love, forgiveness, redemption, and hope.
Yet it can be all too easy to get bogged down in the rigid application of the laws to prove or disprove that I or someone else is good enough. Us and them.
So often we can use religion to justify our own thoughts, feelings, decisions, pain and insecurity. And to punish the other guy who would make us feel that insecurity.
The other extreme is to deny that there is such a thing as God, and to logically prove that to be true.
Even this is a powerful statement about spirituality. To deny spirituality is to take a highly spiritual stance.
Often people who have felt that way have felt spiritually wounded, or have suffered religious abuse in their lives.
It is because of this religious prevalence that we can easily become confused and even angry about the concept of spirituality, believing it to be something that it may not be.
Certainly spirit can be a hard thing to define, as it can be a very personal and individual experience and belief.
In my own clumsy attempts to define spirituality, I would describe it like this: it is our sense of connection; whether it is to God, the universe, nature, the environment, or even to other people.
At a deeper level it is the knowing that we are all one and of all things.
Spirituality is also intangible, impossible to prove, so infinitely broad to justify.
And like frightened children, we can try to make our own spiritual beliefs right, at the cost of making others wrong.
Cults and extreme religious practices can generate the most extraordinary mythologies to justify a religious or spiritual position, just ask the alien warlord Xenu (look it up!).
Those who wish to protect the gullible or vulnerable from these cult influences often crusade to shut down spirituality, when a healthy spirituality may be indeed what is required to protect people from religious and spiritual abuse.
So how do we develop a healthy spirituality?
I would suggest people look to developing an everyday spirituality, to take moments to pause, and experience the connection to that which is around us.
To experience the flow of connections to the living world around us.
To connect with people in ways that are unspoken. To celebrate the presence of the intangible, and the nature of God, whatever we perceive it to be.