Spirituality is a deeply personal way of comprehending and experiencing the divine. An affective spirituality touches your heart in ways that give meaning and purpose to your life. It helps shape your relationships with others and your overall lifestyle. Personal spiritual growth will follow a path of whatever practices you adopt into your lifestyle.
Your own spirituality involves habits, places, and rituals that stimulates your outward expression of an inward sense of the divine. Religion may prescribe how, when, and where you approach the divine. Spirituality is open to experimentation and discovery of how you might experience faith and divinity.
Experiencing God in Christ is the essence of Christian spirituality. In fact, Christian spirituality is all about faith seeking understanding and practices that help you approach God who spirit. It begins with knowing God in your heart, as recorded in scripture, and as revealed in Christ. Wisdom is understanding what you have learned. Spirituality is how you express and experience your understanding.
Again, spirituality is formed through habits, places, and rituals that stimulates your outward expression of your inner sense of God. Let me point out that some traditions define sacraments as an outward and visible sign of inward spiritual grace. Do you see what I did there? Traditional spiritual practices may be considered as types of sacraments through which you experience God in various ways.
Spiritual pursuits open your heart to be renovated and animated by God. The interior spiritual realm is where the transcendent aspects of your life operate beyond the limitations of religion and the material world. You become able to comprehend God through direct experience in the spiritual realm. So, while religion teaches you what to believe, with spirituality you learn, know, and believe through direct access to God.
Choose spiritual disciplines that are compatible with your core beliefs and personality. This will help you stay more consistent in practicing your exercises. You want to find practices that stir your inner spirit and help increase your sense of God’s presence. As you grow inwardly, your outward behaviors will develop in ways that complement your spiritual attentiveness.
Consider the characteristics of habits, places, and rituals as they might form you spiritually. These three formational areas serve as catalysts to shape much of your active spiritual life. Your job is to exercise them with specific practices. Here are some possibilities.
I maintain an intentional habit of showing kindness to cashiers, baristas, servers, and other people who interact directly with the public. These are mostly “unseen” people. Customer attitudes toward them often range from indifference to rage, with not much of a span in between. I make a point of being polite, always thank you and please. I call them by name if they wear a name badge. If one makes a mistake, I extend words of grace to maintain their dignity. When I see the same service worker with regular frequency, I try to learn something about them I can mention on my next visit. These are real people with hopes, dreams, anxieties, and struggles. I want to bless them.
Gratitude is a habit you cultivate by being thankful for people, experiences, and other things in life. Showing gratitude toward others is affirming to those who receive it. Having a time of reflection when you express gratitude to God forms a spiritual bond with your Father in heaven and increases gratitude in your heart. It can also shift your focus towards the good to increase feelings of contentment and joy.
A habit of self-awareness involves reflecting on thoughts, emotions, and behaviors from the day just ended. How do you feel about yourself in the mirror of personal reflection? For example, the Ignatian Examen is a prayer guided by memory. You reflect on the day, focusing on memories of your emotional responses in various situations. This practice refines your ability to discern between Christlike responses and those that are not. You also become more aware of God’s presence in your life.
Service to others involves helping people by serving in your community. You can develop a greater sense of connection and purpose through these helping relationships. Consider volunteering at a soup kitchen, food pantry, or a senior center. Your efforts will be appreciated. Service to others also forms qualities such as compassion, generosity, and kindness.
I remember hiking the coastal hills above San Luis Obispo in the spring before I turned seventeen. It was a region of California I had never explored. I climbed on a rock and scanned the green hillsides while I exhaled and settled down. Then a voice inside me said, “Wherever I go, I am always here, and I know who I am.” I have never forgotten that revelation. Places in nature reconnect you with creation and your creator. You might sit under a tree, go to the beach, go to a park, sit by a lake. All are places where the Spirit abides.
Cultural venues are unexpected portals into the spiritual realm. Art and music are powerful channels for spiritual encounters. Live stage plays can help you feel a sense of connection to something greater than yourself. That makes you more open to God. Creating or experiencing art can lead to moments of reflection and introspection where you connect with your inner world. Engaging the arts requires immediate focus, which nurtures a sense of presence in the moment. Art can also stir your emotions, transferring energy from your head to your heart.
Silent retreat centers provide a peaceful and supportive environment for exploring your inner self and connecting with your feelings. Such places provide an opportunity to quiet your mind and experience inner stillness. Retreat centers offer time and space for self-reflection where you can gain insights into your true nature. You might practice contemplation and other spiritual exercises, sometimes guided by a person qualified to direct your retreat. A spiritual retreat can improve your overall well-being by allowing time to rest, reducing stress, and promoting habits like prayer, reflection, and contemplation.
Historical sites such as ancient ruins, battle grounds, sacred burial grounds, and other significant landmarks can evoke a sense of connection to the past and a feeling of spiritual significance. Visiting historical places can be a powerful way to connect with your heritage, reflect on your own life, find inspiration, and deepen your spiritual perspective. Many have a sense of peace and tranquility, making them wonderful places for reflection. Reflecting on a historical place or event can develop a deeper understanding of souls who were there before you.
I have personalized the Native American ritual of leaving tobacco on the ground as a thank offering. Whenever I gather herbs and such in the wild, I sprinkle a bit of tobacco where I harvest as a way of showing gratitude and respect for the natural world. This ritual reminds me of my connection with nature and the sacredness of all creation. I remember that every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. Earth abounds with food and herbs for all creatures. Give her the reverence she deserves.
Meditation on scripture or Lectio Divina is a ritual you can practice alone or in a group. It is a ritual in the sense that there is a method, it involves prayer, it is an intentional practice, and involves a sense of reverence. Such deep reflection on holy scripture nurtures an inward comprehension of God. It arouses an emotional response that facilitates relocation of biblical insight from your head to your heart. Reflecting on scripture, and other spiritual writings, will increase your wisdom, deepen your understanding, and provide guidance for your journey.
Contemplative prayer is a ritual that deepens your sense of God’s imminent presence and increases your general sense of inner peace. It usually involves opening prayer and a spiritual word or mantra. Connecting with God daily in the intimacy of contemplation enriches your sense of presence in the spiritual realm. Abiding with God in contemplation will help you become more present in the moment of daily life. You will also grow in compassion and sensitivity toward others.
Eucharist, also called communion, is considered a foundational ritual in Christian spirituality. It can have a profound effect on your spiritual life. The bread and wine are believed to become the body and blood of Christ, providing heavenly nourishment for your spiritual journey. Eucharistic liturgy invites you into the heavenly realm, saying, “Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven…” You can enter the heavenly realm in the spirit through contemplative practice. Eucharist also connects you with the greater Christian community, creating a sense of belonging to the mystical body of Christ.
Christian spirituality represents an inner journey, rooted in the teachings and spiritual practices of Christ. The spiritual journey is a personal movement, transcending human thought and reason along the way of experiencing God. It emphasizes the importance of love, compassion, forgiveness, and service to others.
Practices such as daily prayer, meditation on scripture, contemplation, silence, among others, are building blocks that form you spiritually. By being intentional about your spiritual practices, you will deepen your connection with God, develop a greater sense of direction, and attain inner peace. Along the way, you may find it helpful to work with a spiritual director who is able to guide you along your unique path.
Spirituality is a personal journey that brings profound transformation and growth for people who pursue it with an open mind and heart. Christian spirituality is a way of experiencing God, grounded in the teachings and practices of Christ. It emphasizes virtues such as gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion. While spirituality might be associated with religion, it is not limiting and can be expressed in different ways. Christian spirituality is a journey of formation that leads to Christlikeness, along with a deeper comprehension of God’s love, presence, and grace.
Copyright, Calvin Wulf, 2023