What is Spirituality?

Posted by Zenaida
I’ve been thinking about the nature of spirituality, and what is it, really, that I’m supposed to be looking for when I read the scriptures or attend church. I think I can honestly say I’ve never experienced a “burning in the bosom.” I have experienced feelings of peace and felt my soul (for lack of a better term) resonate with truth, but not necessarily in strictly spiritual settings, usually when something makes sense to me or while listening to amazing music. It has happened in both religious and secular settings.

For example, I sat in a yoga practice where we were asked to join in a chant. As I lifted my voice, I felt what I can only describe as a spiritual experience (also feeling somewhat guilty for finding spirituality in a setting other than the three-hour block). But, even as I characterize it as a spiritual experience, it doesn’t lead me to the conclusion that I need to drop everything and convert to Hinduism or Buddhism. It was a feeling of unity and being connected with everyone in the room. In many ways, if I am honest with my own characterizations of feelings, I would not equate them with the conclusions that we are told they should bring. I have fabricated emotional responses because I knew they were expected. At my own baptism when I was eight, I worked myself into tears because I knew I should be overwhelmed with the Spirit, and that’s what happens to people when they feel it.
So often, I see emotionalism equated with spirituality. Is it a matter of faith to attribute the feelings of guidance to someone divine? Am I simply trying to grow into adulthood and not be guided in everything I do? What if these feelings of spirituality lead me outside the church? Are they from God, and hwy would I be lead away from the one true church? Perhaps because I am unwilling to receive it from the church when I feel betrayed and resentful?
How has spirituality played a role in finding peace in questioning for you?

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this post.
    While I was born in the church I’ve never felt the ‘burning in the bosom.’ However, I have felt the same feelings of peace and love. I feel like I’m more spiritually in touch in unrelated church settings; feeling the wind on my face, music, deep conversations, etc…I have a deep love for my Heavenly Father, but sometimes I wonder if the LDS church is the right institution for me. Even though the church as caused me to shed many tears, I also realize it has been an important foundation to get in touch with my spirituality. It is up to me to find my spiritual Authenticity. For me, this has never included sobbing at the pulpit.

  2. AmyB says:

    Spirituality is a topic for which we need more words, like how they say the Eskimos have several words for snow. It means so many different things to different people. My own views have certainly changed over time.

    I now put more credence in experiences that lead me toward feelings of unity, oneness with other, and love than any others. That is just as likely, or more, to happen for me during a walk in the park or a yoga class as at church.

    I’ve also only recently been learning to be more honest about my spiritual feelings, and not saying that I feel something when I don’t. That’s taken courage and I’ve had to get over fears of rejection or disappointing others, but I feel a lot better about myself.

  3. Paradox says:

    I am a convert to the LDS church, and I’ve felt the “burning in the bosom” too many times to count. But it wasn’t always like that for me. Before I converted, I felt about as far away from Heavenly Father as I could get. I felt like all I had to offer Him was lip service, even though I wanted to give him so much more. I just didn’t feel like what I was being taught at the Baptist church I attended at the time. It was really frustrating.

    It wasn’t until I found the LDS church that I felt what so many others around me had–an affirmation that I had found the truth. And since then, I have continued to feel that connection with Heavenly Father… but it has come at a price.

    I find as I get older, I become increasingly more sensitive to His messages, and to the ways in which He touches me. But it gets physically exhausting sometimes. I once had an experience where I felt His presence so strongly, I cried until I couldn’t move, and my whole body was shaking. He has borne witnesses to me that have turned my world upside down and certainly caused me a lot of discomfort.

    So first of all, I just wanted to make the point that not all revelation is warm and fuzzy, which is why some people don’t recognize it.

    Second, not all of us can be as sensitive as I am, or in the same way. Not all of us can fall apart the way I do, because then who would help us pull ourselves together? I see the spiritually stoic people in my life, and I don’t see people who are too unrighteous to have God dwell with them, or people who don’t deserve divine reassurance on a regular basis.

    I see people who have His trust to do things without His intervention. I see people that have been blessed with the strength to endure WITHOUT needing guiding whispers or pulpit tears. I see people in whom Heavenly Father has much faith.

    May we all, no matter how He chooses to (or not to) touch us, continue to strive for His embrace.

  4. JohnR says:

    Great post, Z. Although I am an atheist, I still seek after the spiritual. I assign naturalistic explanations to my experiences, but still value them precisely for how they help me to feel connected to the universe, the earth and to other humans.

    I grew frustrated within the Church environment because my spiritual experiences always had be described using particular language. I felt sometimes that my sublime feelings of connection were being coopted to further doctrines and causes (the masculinity of God and the belittling of loving same-sex relationships) that weren’t confirmed by my feelings.

    Ultimately, I had to leave the Church to feel the same peace, healing and compassion that I once felt within it. So your last set of questions sound familiar to me.

  5. Caroline says:

    I’m not a burning in the bosom type either, and I too have a hard time figuring out what’s ‘the spirit’ and what are simply my emotions.

    I’ve come to believe that my conscience is my connection to the divine. If something resonates deeply with me ethically, I consider it as possible divine.

  6. skyeJ says:

    I’ve recently started to focus my thoughts on feeling the spirit and connecting with God during yoga. Not just during the end mediation, but actually during the entire hour of exercises. I try to just have an open prayer-type of conversation going in my head instead of thinking about other stuff. I just think of all the things I’d discuss with God during prayer while I’m going through the poses. I let my mind go in and out as it wants to, and I’ve been amazed at how I’ve been able to feel intense moments of connection. It is like the way I feel when I’m praying and I’m just going over thoughts and answers will come into my mind that make sense. And I know I didn’t think them there. I know that is one of my ways of connecting with God using my spiritual sense.

    Spirituality is such a personal thing. I believe everyone has a spiritual sense in the same way everyone has the five traditional senses. I find the cookie-cutter guidance at church can be frustrating and misleading in its simplicity because we are all so unique.

    It is only recently that I have actively tried to focus spiritually the way I used to do at church and in the temple. This is because I’m just not able to get past my anger and frustration when I’m in church to try to sit through temple things anymore. I’m not feeling the spirit there, and I thought that I never would again. I thought I was broken and sinning because I was letting my anger get in the way of the spirit. It was during yoga the other day that I was pondering about all this and I felt a very deep impression that God isn’t going anywhere. If I couldn’t do the church thing right now, God would find a way to get to me as long as I kept reaching out.

    The institution of the LDS church is and always will be secondary in nature to the actuality of God. The church isn’t God and I don’t have to be there to use my spiritual sense. But it was there where I learned to recognize and work with it.

    All of this has really helped me to find more peace with the turmoil I feel inside right now. I don’t feel like a sinner anymore for having what seemed to me to be righteous anger. It does get in the way of feeling the spirit, but I can still connect with God when I’m not angry. So now I’m trying to decide if I can ever go back to church or the temple and not feel angry. I don’t know yet. But I don’t feel so lost and adrift anymore.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I have never met a Mormon who I considered spiritual, although I know many who are religious, many who are nice, many who are kind and pious. It may be that because LDS are event driven and rule oriented there is little room for the appearance of the ineffable. I’ve not met a Mormon Thich Nhat Hanh, or Francis of Assisi or Simone Weill or Julian of Norwich or Rumi. Moreover, the belief in a deity who is in essence another creature may actually prevent the growth of spirituality as the Mormon god is neither transcendent nor immanent, but is limited by form, time, and substance. BTW, I don’t consider belief in a god to be a prerequisit for spirituality, but the kind of god, if any, one worships often serves as a delimiter for one’s spiritual life.

  8. Jessawhy says:

    skyej,
    Thanks for what you’ve said. I really connect with your idea of God not going anywhere and being separate from the church.
    I felt peace while reading your comments. Thanks again.

  9. Kate says:

    Interesting post. I too have seen emotionalism equated to spiritualism which can be discouraging.

    When I was a teenager I suffered through some severe bouts with mental illness. It runs through both sides of the family so I had a fair bit to deal with. I remember feeling violently terrible as anyone with those problems will understand. My emotions were very dark and oppressive but I did my best to not let them smother my soul. I worked hard. I questioned, I prayed, I studied, I gave up, and I tried again, over and over.

    Through the process it became very clear to me that our feelings and our spiritual nature are very separate elements of our being. Either can affect the other, but they can and do operate with a degree independence. Because of the circumstances of mortality, we can be right with God and feel terrible and vice versa.

    After years of effort, of seeking. I learned how to feel and recognize the presence of the Lord very deeply in my soul. For me it is a clear and incredibly powerful presence that touches my core. It’s solid and sweet and absolute. It’s the rushing of many waters and without end. It wasn’t an emotional experience, it was a spiritual experience. It created an emotional response.

    Being in touch with myself spiritually is wonderful but being in touch with the Divine is a much different and better.

    I love the church. I know there are causes for frustration. I sat through so many firesides saying “Just be happy” when being happy was a huge physical struggle. But I feel that the doctrine and the scripture the church provides has greatly assisted me in finding my God.

    And because the church is such a community, I’ve learned to love and forgive and care for others in a way I never would have. I think living a life connected with so many other people is very humbling and that humility pushes out the anger and judgment I would otherwise bear. I know that God loves all of us and being able to learn to love more openly has helped me feel so much closer to him.

    Spirituality is a challenge and a struggle. It takes time and effort and I think it’s easy to understand why people misunderstand it or substitute emotionalism. I know I’m not as spiritual right now as I have been at other times, but I’m happy to know that it’s available, that God gives us access to himself.

  10. Zenaida says:

    amyb, I love the idea of having multiple words for spirituality!

    johnr, I’m interested to know more about what spirituality really means to the atheist. How does the naturalist see the world? And, do you ever feel purpose missing from life without the very specific road map set out by the church?

    skyej, I also love the idea that God is not going anywhere.

    kate, I guess I am still struggling to separate my emotions and spirituality. I think it’s hard to do when in church so often we speak of it in terms of how it “feels.” Thanks for reminding me that I need to continue to strive for that divine connection.

  11. compulsive writer says:

    For me spirituality is my sense of knowledge. Sort of an intimacy with truth. And since I know the source of truth is God, I also know I can find it anywhere I find God. In sacrament meeting. in my home, at work, in the garden, etc. At times I have been overcome with emotion, but most times it’s more a feeling of surety and of peace.

    How does my spirituality help me find peace during periods of doubt or weakness? The things I know and my memory of the moment I knew them provide a pretty solid foundation.

  12. Dalene says:

    Sorry–I sort of bungled my choice when it came to choosing my identity–the prior comment was from Dalene.

  13. FoxyJ says:

    I hardly ever feel the Spirit in church anymore. Usually sacrament meeting is a big long endurance quest to keep my two children entertained and not bothering other people too much. But, I’ve always been taught that we are supposed to always be able to have the spirit in our lives, whatever we are doing. Not just at church. I know it’s a cliche, but I like the quote about how “we are spiritual beings having a human experience” (not humans having spiritual experiences)

    My patriarchal blessing told me ways that the spirit spoke to me and has helped me immensely with this. The thing is, it often speaks in dreams, and for years I thought there was something really wrong with me. Like I was crazy or something, because it was almost something paranomal. But now that I have come to know that it is a way the Spirit speaks to me, I can be calm and receive it with trust and not fear. It is important to learn what language the Spirit is speaking with us so that we will be open to receive it. And to realize that we are supposed to be open to spiritual experiences everywhere, not just at church.

  14. AM I A HINDU? Best Seller says:

    1. Spirituality has nothing to do with any religion or culture.

    2. Religions are mere paths and not the final goal. We have to do things that will elevate us spiritually.

    3. Spiritual maturity and SELF-REALIZATION are the final goal.

    4 SELF REALIZATION is a very orderly process.

    5. According to Hindu scriptures, SELF REALIZATION is for all. Nobody is denied salvation [SELF-REALIZATION]. You do not have to be a Hindu to attain salvation.

    6. There is NO need to change one’s born religion. Only thing one has to do, is to combine best aspects of all religions and practice them. For example, one can practice Yoga, with out becoming a Hindu or a Buddhist.

    aamiahindu@yahoo.com

  15. I suspect that the spirituality/religion distinction has been overdrawn, particularly in the modern context where the two blur. I have just posted on it. In case you are interested, here is the link. http://deligentia.wordpress.com/2009/10/30/spirituality-and-religion-a-false-dichotomy/

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