“Spirituality is a lot like health. We all have health; we may have good health or poor health,
but it’s something we can’t avoid having. The same is true of spirituality:
every human being is a spiritual being.”
When I was in my early twenties, I went through a period in which I rebelled against the institutional Catholic Church of my upbringing. I stopped attending weekly Mass, or having any conscious connection with a parish. Always one who had felt more at home in nature than anywhere else, I chose also at the time to live in Colorado.
After earning my bachelor’s degree in journalism at a college in Denver, I moved to a small mountain town high in the Rockies with beautiful views of the high peaks of the Continental Divide at every turn. I began working 60 hours or so a week as reporter and photographer on a small weekly newspaper. The pace of the work didn’t leave much time for contemplation, but somehow I felt better, more whole, and happy.
Several years after this experience, when I had moved back down to the city, I was out walking in the foothills one day with a friend. As we walked, I was telling her about how I was just beginning to get in touch with the intensity of my need to consciously acknowledge and give concrete expression within my lifestyle to my spirituality. I explained that it had not always been that way, explaining those years when I had closed myself off from the Church.
My friend referred to those years as a “dry time” and asked, “What did you do to stay sane during that time?” As I heard the words that formed her question, for a moment I was left at a loss for a reply. Then, suddenly, from out of the inner depths of my being, surprising even me, came a response that brought a knowing smile to my face, “I lived in the mountains.”
That moment was a turning point for me. In that instant, I came to know something profound about myself and about spirituality. I realized that during all that time I thought I was consciously avoiding God and anything spiritual, I was unconsciously nurturing my spirituality by being in relationship with the strong, breathless beauty of the Rockies.
Recalling that experience now helps me to say that I believe spirituality is something we all have. We cannot avoid it. We can ignore it, or be unconscious of it. We can take a wrong approach to it. Particularly here in Western society, I think we have done both of those, cutting ourselves off from the spiritual aspects of ourselves, leading us into a very troubled existence.
Jerome Dollard’s (Kurtz and Ketcham. 1992) image of spirituality being “a lot like health,” quoted above, is important to me for two reasons:
1) it reinforces the notion that spirituality is something we inherently have as an aspect of our humanness;
2) it helps explain for me why some people can be drawn to what we call “a Franciscan spirituality,” or “an Ignatian spirituality,” or “a creation-centered spirituality,” or in a broader sense, “Eastern” or “Native American” spirituality.
In other words, some form of expressing and exercising their spirituality, in the same way that all of us are (or are not) drawn to various forms of activity or expression of our health and our desire to be healthy. To regulate or improve their health, some people jog, some people ride bicycles, some people play racquetball. Other people merely sit on the couch and hope for the best. Yet, whether we are attentive to it or not, we all have health.
In this same way, I am coming to believe, we all have spirituality, and we can make choices about how to strengthen it. Once we become conscious of our spiritual nature as humans – or perhaps even unconsciously as I did during my year in the mountains – we can start to choose a spiritual path to follow in order to be healthy in our spirituality.
Moreover, I am coming to think that to commit to a healthy approach to spirituality has something to do with our becoming consciously aware of our interconnectedness, our fundamental, inherent stance of relationship – with God, others, the natural world, our Universe – that is an integral aspect of our human existence. Then, in this new state of awareness – and this is where it becomes important to life, family and work issues – we have choices to make about learning to live in ways that nourish the relationships between self, God, and the world that already exist.
The challenge is not to become connected. We already are. The challenge is to learn consciously for ourselves how we want to live out our connectedness in a healthy and life-giving manner.
Dollard, J. As cited in Kurtz E. and Ketcham, K. (1992) The spirituality of imperfection. New York, NY: Bantam. p.17