What is spirituality ?

Spirituality is about having an awareness of something greater than ourselves - a sense of a certain presence perhaps - and engaging with it. 

With it comes greater self-awareness, and this may colour how we see ourselves, other people and the world around us. 

We may come to it in different ways - a sense of oneness with the natural world, or being overcome by awe on a starry night; being moved by music, or architecture; or through teachings, meditation, or an unexpected act of generosity.

We may respond in many ways - joy and elation expressed in music, dance or poetry, or alternatively quiet reflection and the desire to be intensely still and to listen, or to pray. Our response may include a new found respect and love for the environment and the world around us. We might also respond with anger or protest, or even a sense of suffering. 

At its core, spirituality inhabits the quieter, emotional areas of our minds, well away from noise, busy-ness and words, deep in our inner selves. This can be reached in different ways, such as music or the visual arts, a communal experience, a walk in the countryside. All these may be prayerful acts if they become part of our spirituality.

One particular form of spiritual practice often attracts special attention: the practise of meditation or contemplation, sometimes using mantras or the recitation of prayers. This type of activity aims to quieten the active mind, quell the busy-ness and allow us to nurture our spiritual selves - some would say to commune with or be open to God. 

What about Christian spirituality ?

Firstly, Christian spirituality gives a name to that greater presence, daring to call it 'God'. This is in many ways a big step. Naming something usually means taming or controlling it. The Jewish faith expressly forbids using God's name because it risks turning the unseen and powerful God into something we can treat like every other object in our experience. Christian teaching about God understands that risk but also understands the need for a framework within which the Good News of God's love can be communicated. 

So Christian spirituality engages with what Christian faith tells us about God, and in particular the teachings of Jesus, in order that we can begin to understand better how we may recognise God in our everyday lives and respond accordingly. The Lord's Prayer provides a template for practising prayer and deepening our spirituality. And yet the development of a deep spirituality also involves a realisation that, paradoxically, God, and our experience of God, is far greater than can be put into any form of words or teaching. We are changed because we know God, but can rarely find words to describe it. Our actions and changed behaviour will speak far more powerfully.

Christian spirituality will express itself in humility, in an awareness of one's failings and God's forgiveness, and in acts of generous and self-sacrificial love, care for others and care for the environment. It will also recognise such acts as the workings of God wherever it finds them, regardless of whether they are performed by someone claiming to be Christian. 

The monastic life - where Christians shut themselves away from the world to focus on prayer and spirituality - has sometimes been seen as something of a gold standard for Christian spirituality. In some Monastic Orders, the Daily Office - communal prayers every three hours through day and night - formed the structure within which the mind's activity could be calmed and spirituality could develop. These services consisted of a regular routine of sentences, singing or recitation of the Psalms and other texts such as Mary's song (the Magnificat), readings from the Bible and prayers.

Nowadays, a less intense rule - consisting of more or less formal but regular Morning and Evening Prayer - forms the basis for the spiritual life of many Christians, one that is practical and can be combined with daily life in the real world. Choral Evensong is descended from the monastic Office, and offers both an entry point to the spiritual life and a context where spirituality can grow.

Finally, as with any form of spirituality, Christian spirituality develops gradually - recognising and then accepting the call of God may take many years and maybe some false starts. Following Jesus was not meant to be easy, but is possibly the most truly rewarding thing there is in life.

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