April 30, 2017 Column
A Conversation about Spirituality
Rev. Yme Woensdregt
I attended a recent workshop on Spiritual Care offered by the East Kootenay Regional Hospital Spiritual Care Department. I was grateful for the opportunity to sit with other caregivers in Cranbrook and learn, think, talk and reflect about how we offer spiritual care for people in our hospitals, care homes, churches and other groups.
I was particularly struck by a conversation about spirituality. Spirituality is one of those words we often have difficulty defining. Sometimes we use it to talk about what we’re not—you know, I’m spiritual but not religious. It’s a negative way of locating where we belong. Other times, spirituality is a way of talking about people’s religious commitments and practices. At still other times, we use this word to talk about the human spirit or soul as opposed to material of physical things.
A website from the University of Minnesota suggests that spirituality is “a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience.”
That helps make spirituality less nebulous, less vague and hazy. It also points to the importance of spirituality for living in a whole–hearted kind of way.
I work hard to talk with people who don’t share my Christian commitments about their spiritual lives. I am convinced we all have a spiritual life, no matter how we define it, and I am convinced that it’s an important part of who we are.
So I was delighted at this workshop on Spiritual Care to see a series of slides which tried to illustrate some of the dimensions of spirituality. Each slide began “Spirituality is about …”
… sources of inner strength. We have inner resources which help us maintain our equilibrium when everything around us is falling apart. Where do you find your strength? What helps you keep your head when all around you is falling apart?
… sources of peace and calm. Related to the first, this has to do with maintaining a calm centre in the midst of all the noise that badgers us from the outside. What keeps you grounded? Where do you find a calm centre? For me, I find my calm centre when I take time to reflect, often with music playing. For others, it’s running, or going for a walk in the forest, or being out in nature, or helping another person.
… sources of meaning and significance. What fills your life with meaning? Where do you find significance in your life? Douglas Hall, a theologian who taught at McGill for many years before retiring a few years ago, made the point that this is the great existential question of our age. In a time of meaninglessness, where do we find meaning in our lives? What do our lives mean? Related to this is the next slide.
… a sense of purpose or vocation. The word “vocation” comes from a Latin root meaning “to be called”. Often, we find the source of meaning in our lives as we live out that calling. It’s an internal sense that when I do something, I am doing what I was meant to do. Again, this is as individual as the people experiencing it. Nurses experience this kind of calling. So do teachers, or counsellors, or people who reach out to help other people. I maintain that shop keepers and plumbers and mechanics and janitors can also find their work to be a vocation.
… the stories we tell about ourselves and our world. How do you tell the story of your life? Is the world you live in empty or full? Is it warm and loving or cold and uncaring? Is there a purpose to the universe, or is it largely meaningless. The way we tell our stories reveal the kind of spirituality which we live out. How do you tell your story?
… the values according to which one decides what to do. Spirituality often include the deepest values we hold, which are the basis on which we make major life decisions. What are the basic values by which you live? How do those values help you determine what you are to do in major life choices?
… religious commitments, connections and practices. This final slide has to do with the importance of embodying our spirituality in some way. For me, my Christian commitment means I try to live with others in a community which gathers regularly and frequently to worship, to be strengthened, to be nurtured in the spirituality which we hold in common.
That’s why Christians or Buddhists or followers of Wicca gather. I recently heard that atheists are gathering together on Sunday mornings to sing songs from their childhoods (often the so–called protest songs of the 1960’s), to read from selected poetry or other works of literature, and to take time together to talk, eat, and share the moment.
In these gatherings, we embody our spirituality. We live it out in community with other people.
My sense is that these words about spirituality help us understand this concept in helpful ways. These words may even help us to talk together across spiritual divides about our lives and the world in which we live.