Splinters from the Board

This Thing Called Spirituality

In our UU sermons, hymns and This I Believe services, we often hear the words "spirit," "spiritual," and "spirituality." What does that mean, exactly? We can point to a dog and all agree that it is a dog. Or we can agree that a rose is a rose. But not so, necessarily, with this elusive thing called spirituality. We can speak the word "spiritual" in a group of twenty people and each person might conjure up some very different experiences and activities. And they would probably all be right. We might all agree that meditation, prayer and contemplation and certain forms of chanting are spiritual practices, along with the rosary, Islamic daily prayers, sitting shiva, or lighting candles for special intentions. In some cultures animal sacrifices and burnt offerings are still spiritual practices. But then it gets murky, because there are many other practices that bring us closer to some unseen and intangible "something." We think we know it when we see it or feel it, but it defies being put into precise words. It is deeply personal and unique for each person.

Here are a few definitions I've found of the term "spiritual":

  • Religious; concerned with sacred matters or religion
  • Lacking material body or form or substance
  • Of or pertaining to the spirit or the soul
  • Of or pertaining to God or the divine
  • Concern for that which is unseen and intangible, as opposed to physical or mundane
  • An ultimate or immaterial reality
  • Some inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of their being
  • The deepest values and meanings by which people live

Based on this wide range of possible definitions, it can mean a lot of things. So for purposes of continuing on, I'm going to define a "spiritual practice" as any activity that leads to an experience of connectedness with a larger reality, allowing an individual to be more fully present and engaged in life and living, and ultimately yielding a deeper and more comprehensive sense of self and the surrounding world. And yes, this definition assumes that whatever it is that sparks that larger experience might be unique to an individual.

We as UUs are fortunate in being able to shape our own spiritual practice(s). Some of us find a spiritual connection in such things as art, music and singing, poetry, writing, hiking, scuba diving, gardening, social action, fostering animals and/or ecological and conservancy pursuits. It could be a walk on the beach at sunset or the birth of a child, being present at the last minutes of life of a friend or family member, hearing a particularly moving sermon or lecture, the look on a child's face, or the exchanging of vows that moves you into some deeper reality for a time and changes who you are, sometimes for just a minutes and sometimes for longer. If you meditate, even breathing can be a spiritual practice. .

So I say we should cultivate spiritual practices and engage in them often and regularly. I think that is one of our responsibilities, in fact. Choose your unique and meaningful activity and embrace it with joy so you can become a truly present and fully participating child of the universe. I think, after all, this is our birthright.


Connie Pursell, Secretary