Definition eludes. Like the smell of color or the sound of a flower, we connect in some pre-verbal way with “spirituality.” Precisely because it is spiritual, we labor to put into words something so vital we dare not try to live without it.

“Not religion!” is the usual cry of the new spirituality crowd, by which they mean not church, or not any particular claim to truth like Hear, O Israel, the Lord is One, or Jesus saves! and certainly not subject to any authority, whether priest, rabbi, text or tradition. The life of spirit is billed as a voyage of the solitary self into inner space, with no freeloaders allowed aboard the good ship My Way!

My soul tends to drift in the deep space of my own delusions. I need a rudder, a sail, a crew — and yes, even a pilot! — to make a journey out of what threatens to be aimless floating. Without those things, claims of spirituality can mask my greed and grant me excuses for clearing my calendar of anyone or anything inconvenient.

Rightful spirituality leads the soul to God and awakens the voyager to his or her created self. It involves limits and love, imagination and companionship. It begins with the God who made us for intimate and eternal relationships — with our Creator and with each other.

The impulse of spirituality rises up within us like antigravity — we are wooed out of ourselves. Like a magnetic pull from a distant pole, we are drawn back to God by indefatigable and infallible divine creativity. In ways we do not invent but cannot deny, God puts it in us to want more out of life than the high-sugar diet of lesser things.

In their new book, Seasons of Grace — The Life-Giving Practice of Gratitude, authors Alan Jones and John O’Neil say spirituality arises from gratitude for what is and what one has. Rather than seeking more and more that satisfies less and less, we drink from the well of gratitude that is God’s gift of a life that endures.

In their book, Jones and O’Neil write: “True spirituality is a process of self-simplification and truth-telling for the sake of love that offers an antidote to the consumerist, power-driven images that dominate our culture. Being open to gratitude is a way of being subversive and rebellious in a culture that too easily cheapens us.”

The witness of the saints teaches us that prayer, meditation, Bible reading, almsgiving, serving the poor, welcoming strangers, living simply, fasting, labyrinth walking and spiritual friendship are not everyday rituals that block the path of spirituality; rather, they are practices that clear the debris on this path.

God employs souls far and near with wisdom ancient and modern to guide us along the way. Self-employment in this business only leads to bankruptcy.


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