Are you spiritual? And, if so, what makes you spiritual?
I think the word “spiritual” is a grossly underrated and mal-defined concept for the most part. People will often take a small part of the true whole and apply a spiritual label to it, certainly in terms of the popular secularist viewpoint. Yet realistically, spirituality is not all that trendy in the secular world—it can tend to be a bit of a fad people think is cool for a time before they drop it like a hot potato, especially when it gets awkward and uncomfortable.
And if anything’s going to get us to an awkward and uncomfortable place, holistic spirituality it is! But don’t be put off or stop reading... continue on, please. Those who experience holistic spirituality will never experience anything better; no exceptions.
I’m venturing to say that a more holistic spirituality includes two basic core ingredients before true Spirituality of God is known.
These are quite simply the mental and emotional spheres. To engage both of these critical and most necessary capacities to the best of our abilities is going to require effort—sometimes it flows, but most of the time it doesn’t. But, the rewards are more than worth it.
We see here that most of the time one comes to the forefront to the exception and lag of the other. We all attract one over the other, at least to some degree. But first, let’s illustrate where an overemphasis on one or the other tips our balance into ‘skewed, deficient spirituality’—an incomplete relationship with the Almighty.
Now, if we have only the mental capacities engaged in our spirituality we become too information and knowledge oriented—all head, no heart. We’d be legalistic because our heart (the seat of the intentions/emotions) is not allowed to determine the contextualised shades of grey. This is not holistic spirituality; it is hold spirituality i.e. it’s without necessary flex. Love—the exercise of loving kindness—especially needs this.
Yet, if we only have the emotions involved—say in typical spiritual worship—we reduce our spirituality down to ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ status. Our worship feels good but it’s got a hollow, non-theological sort of ring to it. It might feel alright but this spirituality is not beneficial for any other reason. This is not holistic spirituality; it is hollow spirituality. Our love hence has no real structure to it; it lacks the necessary strength to resemble true resilient love—a love necessary to resist or accept the world whenever either is required.
This is not to say the mystical realities of worship and gifts of the Spirit are wrong or inappropriate. These are highly appropriate, of course. We can easily derive very strong emotional experiences but if they’re true they’ll be backed up by a strong knowledge of God. In other words, our relationship with him, including the recognition and mature management of our own sin (per 1 John 1:8-10), underpins it.
(How can we be spiritual and forget the most pressing basis of our own sin? Yet, many who practice Christian spirituality appear to do this very thing. If we forget our sin or it’s not front of mind, we too easily forget our Saviour. It’s a most necessary dual-edged sword.)
True Christian spirituality is exercised in the context of relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ, our Lord, via the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that anoints us—but not without more or less equal mental and emotional contributions—head, heart... then holy!
Mental and emotional capacities work together to inform one another at a holistic level allowing (for the purposes of flexibility) one or the other to rise in prominence—for a time.
Simplistically, the God-anointed mind—which is the combination of our mental and emotional capacities, engaged as fully as we can—informs the physical body to act. This is the correct design for life. The mental and emotional—in balance—also reinforce the relational component of our faith.
Spirituality cannot be propped up where there’s a mental-emotional imbalance; our growth is therefore stunted. This is where “faith” at a personal level comes unstuck.
So, the final consideration is, ‘Where’s our gap?’ What do we major in, the mental or the emotional... the Word of God (knowledge and facts about God) or the Charismata of God—we all have our leanings, our natural preferences.
If we’re honest about our shortcomings, God has a beautiful growth journey custom-designed for us. We jump on board and his Spirit sets out to even the spiritual growth ledger. We’re his disciples. He is faithful and he will do it (1 Thess. 5:23-24).
© 2009 S. J. Wickham.