Visions of Daniel

What is the "Spiritual"?


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The Religious and the Spiritual

In addition to its traditions, texts, rituals, practices, and moralities, especially in the West religion relates to belief in God, theism; but spirituality regards a universal phenomenon inherent in humanity as such.

The root of the spiritual in humans is human consciousness, the human spirit—a capacity for awareness, and even awareness of our own awareness, that expresses itself in wonder, marvel, awe, and leads us to ponder the meaning of life: Where do we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? What is worth living for? Unlike other animals, for whom life’s purpose is given, we need to find meaning and purpose in life. Usually religion offers us a set of answers. But religious or not, believing in God or not, because we are self-aware, because our minds transcend the here and now, we all grapple with spiritual matters. As Erich Fromm phrased it, we cannot live without some form of “orientation and devotion.” Said otherwise, we shape our worlds and live our lives on the basis of meanings and values, or visions and virtues, or understandings and commitments, or beliefs and ethics, or dreams and promises: Knowing and loving are the distinctive qualities of human life, and they are spiritual.

Every human being, just by being human, is engaged in a spiritual enterprise—the project of making a life for oneself. So spiritual care is a dimension of all health care. In the human species, the spiritual subsumes and reorients the biological and psychological and urges integrity or unity in a multi-faceted being, a person. By the same token, human emotions express not only affective states but also spiritual status: how we stand in the face of life; so attention to emotions is a prime focus of spiritual integration. For us humans, health entails spiritual harmony in addition to physical soundness and emotional comfort. For better or worse, our “mental outlook,” our purpose in living, affects health, healing, and recovery, and vice versa.

True and False Spirituality

Any meanings and values whatsoever are spiritual (by definition), but not all are genuine, authentic, valid; not all contribute to what is true and good, right and wholesome. The difference is crucial.

The human need for visions and virtues requires not only that we have them but also that we be at ease with them, really believe in them. Our spiritual needs raise metaphysical questions: Is my belief true? Is my choice good, really worthwhile? Not any meaning or value will do. In the face of crisis, and especially death, this further requirement of human self-awareness asserts itself with a vengeance.

There results the struggle, the quest, characteristic of humanity: to have something worth believing in and something worth dying for. In the end, only what is actually true and only what is really good satisfy. Of course, it is hard to say what is true and good in an absolute sense. Nonetheless, we need to attain some state of peace with ourselves. We need to know that we have been honest at least with ourselves and have pursued what at least we ourselves have known to be truly good. We need at least to be on the path toward the true and the good. In a word, we need to be authentic: deliberately open to a fulfillment that in the ideal is unlimited, timeless, lasting. Such positively oriented openness is the essence of spiritual health and the key to spiritual growth, personal integration, peace of soul.

Human Authenticity and God

If authentic spirituality does not necessarily entail belief in God, believers will nonetheless readily recognize that authenticity points to what they call “God,” the Fullness of Truth and Goodness, the Ultimate Meaning and Value, the ideal goal of the human spiritual quest. This recognition allows one to speak of the spiritual in both theist and non-theist terms, as appropriate, and, thus, to resonate with the spiritual core of any person grappling with life’s issues.