"What Does All This Talk About Spirituality Have To Do With Me?"

by Dr. John Largen



There's a lot of talk going around these days about "spirituality" and "being spiritual."   It sounds like more "New Age" mumbo jumbo, with crystals and channeling and other goofy stuff. But it's not confined to California. All the bookstores are filled with books and tapes by people who are apparently making a load of money on "spirituality." The term "spirituality" is showing up everywhere: in magazine articles on relationships, in popular music, in advertisements, on greeting cards, in exercise programs, in stress-management seminars. The word "spirituality" is rarely defined and so each person is left to figure out what it means in each context. It's confusing. But is it important?

One gets the feeling that our materialistic, brand-name society must be hungry for something transcendent or religious. At a time of great national prosperity, the talk of "spirituality" is pervasive, as if all our wealth, all our technology, and all the "things" we've acquired just don't mean that much after all. It seems that, despite outward appearances, we as a people are still empty, restless and unsatisfied. We're still searching for some ultimate meaning for our lives. Rich as our culture is, we are yet poverty-stricken for truth and personal fulfillment. Though full with the shiny bobbles and pleasures of this world, we somehow sense...when we're honest with ourselves...that we are still hungry way down deep...hungry for something or for someone to help make sense of our lives.

One thing is for sure: hungry people will eat junk-food if they can't find anything else.  All this loose talk about "spirituality" certainly displays a deeply felt need within us, but ultimately it cannot satisfy the need. It's the "junk-food" of today's culture. It's as helpful to us as chewing gum is to a starving person. But that's not the end of the story. There is good news. The good news is that there is available to us another way of understanding "spirituality"--a time-tested reliable way, a nourishing way, a way that never leaves the ground.

It turns out that this human longing, this inner thirst, this shared restlessness has been there from humankind's beginning. The Old Testament psalmist wrote, "As a deer pants for the waterbrook, so pants my soul for you, O God." St. Augustine wrote, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." The true bread that satisfies our soul, the living water that quenches our longing, the divine embrace that offers us rest and peace...is none other than the loving God who knows us inside out and who welcomes us in spite of our waywardness. The Holy One made known by Jesus of Nazareth is the Source of our life and the ultimate Truth of our existence. And the followers of Jesus, the Church, have always participated in a full-filling, bounty-full and joy-full Christian spirituality. This Christian spirituality is an ancient practice of simply "being with God" in the ordinariness of everyday life...thus it bears little resemblance to the vague, vaporous, junk-food "spirituality" that is variously chattered about in popular culture.

The term "Christian spirituality" is just another way to talk about the Christian life and discipleship. It involves the whole of our life, not merely a compartment of it. It is our response to God's initiative. It is the daily living out of our baptism into Christ. It is walking wet every day, following the Lord Jesus into a radically new way of being--of freedom, love and service for others. It is not for a select group of mystics with supernatural abilities and secret knowledge; it is for you and me and all the baptized. It is not about becoming more and more responsible in the fulfillment of a duty; rather, it's about becoming more and more faithful in a love relationship with God.

A simple definition of Christian spirituality is "Living in awareness of the presence of the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)." Living in awareness means paying attention and noticing. There is an intentionality about such living. Paying attention to the presence of the Triune God in the ordinariness of daily life is an honoring of one's relationship with God, because it is a relationship of love and intimacy. It means learning to watch and wait for the subtle movements of God in our lives and in our world. It means learning to both listen to and talk to God, and to grow into the honesty of the relationship. It means seeing the world as God's world, and seeing all people as God's people. It means noticing and celebrating the holy in the ordinary--in each moment, in each conversation, in each happening--because this is the place where God is...not out in some seventh heaven a universe away.

Like in any relationship, communicating openly and simply being with each other allows for a deepening of understanding and affection over time. And it is the Holy Spirit who initiates this togetherness, not us--which is why we call it SPIRITuality! The Spirit works always to draw us ever closer to God who is the center of our lives. Sometimes almost imperceptibly, the Spirit gradually but tenaciously calls us to God. This is the thirst and ache for God which we sometimes sense deep within us. It's the source of our restlessness when we are apart from God...the restlessness which we sometimes try to shake with the distraction of material things, sex, alcohol and drugs. The truth is, as Augustine said, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. And our deep-down unspoken desire for God is really an echo of God's deep-down desire for us.

Worshiping with our sisters and brothers in Christ in community, especially around the Lord's Table; delving into scripture which is God's Word to us; engaging in an ongoing, honest prayer life of communication and communion with God; and selflessly serving God's people are basic ancient practices which tutor us in our relationship with God...which open us up to grow in intimacy with this One who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It's not about duty; it's about a relationship.

As the Spirit dwells within us and works a transformation in us, we become more and more attentive to and cooperative with the Spirit's leading over time. And pretty soon we discover ourselves being changed, renewed. We discover freedom for a new way of living; we discover forgiveness and peace; we discover hope for the future; we discover a love to share. The Holy Spirit wonderfully forms us inwardly into the image of Christ and gathers us to be the Church, which is Christ's body in the world.

Christian spirituality is not vaporous and "new age." It is an earthy and ancient way of being with God in love. It is the way of the Church, the way of the disciple, the way of living out God's way in the world. And ultimately, it is God's work in us.

So, what does all this talk about "spirituality" have to do with you? Well, if you listen carefully, there is a quiet invitation in it to look honestly at your deepest desires. Do you sense a void, a restlessness, an inner longing for something more in your life? Perhaps it is the whisper of the One who knows you better than you know yourself. Perhaps it is an echo of this One's desire for you. How will you respond to this silent voice? The great good news for you and me is that the indwelling Spirit of God is already drawing us closer to the center of your lives...the Triune God who loves us more than we can imagine. In the face of such unrelenting love and grace, all we can do is rejoice and dance.


The Rev. John Largen, D.Min.

Pastor to the Seminary Community for Spiritual Formation

Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary

Columbia, South Carolina