What is Spirituality?

What is Spirituality?

At best, this term is ambiguous. Many of us have our own understanding of what spirituality means to us, but the term has become so relative  and subject to personal opinion that there really isn’t a widely accepted consensus around what is meant by the term ‘spirituality’. There are a few questions that we need to answer before we can really engage with what we mean by spiritual health and how that fits within our framework for holistic well-being. How does the world view Spirituality? What is the difference between spirituality and religion? What is authentic Christian Spirituality and what does that look like? These are some of the things we need to ponder in order to gain a robust understanding of our own spiritual selves. So grab a cuppa and settle in for a good deep and meaningful discussion around our definition of spirituality.

How Does the World View Spirituality?

There is such a diverse range of spirituality in our culture that narrowing it down to one succinct definition has been difficult. Although spirituality has been a widely accepted part of life and culture since the beginning of time, historically the scientific disciplines have been reluctant to talk about it. The subjective nature of spirituality makes it very difficult to gather the type of empirical data that scientists love to play with. This has made it difficult to articulate in popular culture because so much of our common vernacular is based on scientific language. But the cool thing is that in recent years, the study of spirituality has begun to gain some traction in the field of social sciences. Yay!!

In her book, “The Spiritual Child : the new science on parenting for health and lifelong thriving”, psychologist, Lisa Miller, explains that the sciences have now defined spirituality in this way;

“a sense of a close personal relationship to God (or nature or the universe or whatever term each person used for higher power) and a vital source of daily guidance.”

(Miller, 2015)

Further to this, it is also understood that spirituality is an individual experience, while religion is the communal experience of spirituality through shared beliefs. So, it is understood that Spirituality and religion are two different things.

What is the Difference Between Spirituality and Religion?

While spirituality is about being relationally connected with a ‘higher power’, religion has a dual meaning, which can make it confusing. On the one hand, religion is understood to be the communal experience of spirituality through shared beliefs. It is spirituality experienced in community. However, religion is also the term applied to the various traditions, rituals, customs and obligations for those who follow a particular belief system. In this sense religion can refer to the ‘rules for living’. It is important to note the difference between spirituality and religion. It is possible for people to be spiritual, but not religious. It is also possible for people to be religious but not spiritual.

An interesting observation is that studies are showing that people who have the best overall well-being ‘outcomes’ are those who identify as both spiritual and religious and who actively engage with a faith community on a regular basis.

 

What is Authentic Christian Spirituality?

The Wesminster Shorter Catechism states that,

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”

Let’s just sit with this for a moment… Our whole purpose in life is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. It is both of these things. To glorify God IS to enjoy God… forever!

Earlier today I spent some one-on-one time with my daughter. We went shopping and we bought skin care products and gave each other a facial and we just talked about stuff. There was a point in the afternoon when this precious girl looked me in the eye and said, “I love spending time with you, Mum! You’re the best!” And you know, I genuinely felt the same way about her. I love spending time with her. She is one of my very favourite people. In that moment, I was glorified. My daughter, whom I love more that I have words to express, was enjoying me and I was enjoying her. There is authenticity in our relationship. I know her and she knows me, and we love hanging out!

This is a picture of the kind of relationship God invites us into with Himself, through Jesus Christ. Our relationship with God was broken so badly that it was impossible for us to draw near to God through our own religious efforts. There is nothing we could ever have done to restore what had been broken through our rejection of God and all that He has for us. But God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believed in Him may not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). This is good good news for us! Because of Jesus, we are brought back into a restored relationship with God and it is a relationship defined by JOY! This is what authentic Christian spirituality looks like, an intimate and personal relationship with the living God, characterised by the mutual enjoyment of one another.

So, this is the point where I must ask myself about my own spirituality. Do I have an authentic relationship with God that enables me to enjoy Him? Or am I religious in my approach to God, assuming that my rituals and disciplines will win His affections. I love how he invites us to just be real and to come as we are to His Throne of grace. Jesus is so lovely!

As we learn to enjoy Him more, it radically transforms everything else. His love for me, impacts every other relationship in my life. It impacts the way I am learning to care for the body He has given me. His love impacts the way that I think and process my emotions. Every single facet of my humanity is radically transformed by my relationship with Him… But, more on that another time.

How are you going to enjoy God today? When you open your Bible and read His Word, invite Him to show you more of Himself and His love for you through the stories you read. Get yourself a journal and start keeping a record of all the ways that God shows up throughout your day. Or write down all the little touch points of love that He sends to you to make you smile. It’d be such a joy for my heart to hear, so please leave me a comment to share the joy!

 

Holistic Well-being

 

It’s a catchy phrase, isn’t it? Holistic Well-being… It has a certain ring to it that makes me think of some vibrant young woman frolicking through a field full of flowers in a flowy white dress with nothing but good health and good vibes… Or perhaps it’s the radiant yoga guru who has managed to obtain inner peace through developing a spiritual connection with their body and with the universe. Either way, Holistic Wellness is a hot topic in the health and lifestyle sector at the moment and there is a lot of information available to help people live a more holistically balanced life. However, it can all be somewhat confusing. What do we actually mean when we talk about holistic well-being?

Holistic is a broad term. When we talk about holistic wellness we are interested in the well-being of the whole person. It is all encompassing… every facet of the human experience must be properly considered to obtain a holistic view of health. There are a lot of helpful resources available to talk about holistic well-being. But some of them are a bit vague, and some are too narrow in their focus, while others are so broad that they are overwhelming. Also the rise of eastern religious practices and New Age therapies in both popular culture and the social sciences can be a little uneasy for those of us who want to live in a way that is honouring to Jesus Christ. So when we consider “Holistic Well-being” we can quickly become overwhelmed and discouraged at the enormity of such a pursuit.

Through my years of studying counselling and Neuropsychotherapy I have learned that people are complex and multifaceted creatures. We are made up of may parts. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus cares deeply for the whole person. He Himself is well acquainted with our human experience. He came down from His Heavenly Throne, He became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1). All the complexities and intricacies of our humanity were fully experienced by Jesus Himself. He is the God who made us (Colossians 1:15-20). He is the author of life (Acts 3:15) and the perfecter of our faith  (Hebrews 12:2), who said that He came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). To live an abundant life is to live with holistic surrender to Jesus Christ.

So again we must ask, what does all of this look like? At its core, holistic living is a matter of balance. How does that saying go?

“Some days you go to the gym and eat salads. Other days you eat cake for breakfast and refuse to wear pants… its all about balance.”

The tricky part is trying to figure out exactly what it is you are trying to balance. Or more importantly, what part of your life is out of balance.

Based on a combination of current research, personal application and a deep seeded desire to simplify my understanding of ‘balance’, I have come up with the following little diagram to understanding holistic well-being.

The Four Dimensions of Holistic Well-being

The overall experience of being human can be broken down into these four broad categories; Physical, Mental, Social and Spiritual.

Each of these dimensions will be discussed in more detail over the coming months. This is a basic overview of how I have come to frame holistic well-being in a way that makes it easy to understand and apply to everyday life. This tool has been adapted from research in psychology and is helpful for locating key areas of our human experience that need to be addressed in order to move towards a greater holistic wellness.

The four dimensions are separate but they interact and affect one another in a very fluid and dynamic way (note the arrows). For example, if you contract the flu, this is a physical (well-being) issue with clear physical symptoms. However, when you feel sick, you often don’t feel up to socialising with loved ones (social well-being). Your diminished social engagement makes you feel lonely and a bit depressed (mental well-being). If you spend long enough feeling sick,  isolated and depressed, it will begin to affect your view of self and moreover your view of God (spiritual well-being). This is a very basic example, but it shows how all the quadrants in this model work together to impact the whole person.

Whatever is happening in one dimension will affect what is going on in the other dimensions and vice versa. The Cross has been placed in the centre because this diagram represents a person who has centred themselves on Jesus Christ as the Lord and Saviour of their life. When Jesus is brought into the centre of our human experiences, radical things happen! It means that His Grace not only works in each of these four separate dimensions, but it alters the way these dimensions interact with one another. All of our human experiences are impacted by the person and work of Jesus Christ. We see His hand of Redemptive Grace in everything, working all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Thinking about wellness in this way can be extremely helpful for taking stock of our overall well-being and identifying where to make tweaks and changes if necessary. It can also help us to see where and how sin and suffering are impacting us and where we need to invite Jesus in to restore and redeem. It is my prayer that this simple little tool will help each of us to move in that direction, making the most of every opportunity to live life  with Wondrous Joy.

This is the framework for how this website will be developed over the coming months. So please keep checking in and feel free to get in touch. I’d love to hear how you are discovering how to live authentically in the Wondrous Joy that was bought for us at the Cross of Christ Jesus.

 

The Beauty of Broken

What makes a person beautiful?

The face of the woman I see in the mirror is not vibrant with the youthful radiance it once held. The face in mirror has warn and appears tired… drained. But the mirror is not the place where beauty dwells in its purest form. So I look deeper beyond the mirror, straining to see the life behind the face. I do not dare gaze long. The life I see is not one of radiant beauty. The innocence of youthful ambition has long been scattered among the ruins of painful reality. The pillars of hope that once upheld dreams of glorious and romantic adventure are now reduced to desolate piles of rubble. The quest for beauty here seems hopeless and my heart sinks at the sight of all the brokenness. In humbled resignation I lay down among the ruins of what once promised to be something spectacular. It is here, among the ruins, where I finally see it.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…. from among the ruins I look up and I see, with more clarity than ever, the One who has held me from the very beginning. There is peace and joy and delight in His gaze. He is not shaken by what He sees. It is as if He doesn’t see the shattered ruins of hopes and dreams. He sees only me. And He looks into my eyes with radiant joy in His own.

In His gaze I see love. Perfect love. The kind of love that drives out fear. And as I look into His eyes I catch my own reflection. I do not recognise it at first. It is more lovely than I dared imagine. It does not resemble the warn out face from the mirror. In this reflection I see something breath-taking. I see myself Redeemed by Jesus – the One who was broken for me. In this new, Redeemed reflection I see His glory. I bear His image and it is altogether lovely.

With this new clarity of vision I see that the measure of my beauty is not reflected in my pursuit of glory, but rather in God’s glorious pursuit of me. The power unleashed by Jesus Christ reaches far beyond my feeble comprehension. Therefore, I will no longer try to hide the mess of my life from the God who sees. Rather, I will step aside and invite Him in to the ruins, because I know that He is the God who redeems. Look up, weary soul, look up! He is the One who builds beauty out of your broken.

Tend to your roots…

The following is a post that was written during the absolute worst year of my life. This year marked the beginning of a long, treacherous journey through multiple losses, compound grief, crippling anxiety and isolation. It is a glimpse of how my heart was held during unimaginable brokenness. After all of this, all I can say to you is that Jesus is lovely…

It was interesting to read through this again and to see how tenderly the Lord spoke with me through that darkest season. In deed, the winter has passed and the glorious spring is here, yet even now, the beckoning of wisdom to ‘tend to my roots’ is timely and nourishing…


Originally posted November 14, 2012 – almost 4 months after I lost my precious little boy, Hudson. 

Have you ever seen an Australian Red Cedar tree? They are altogether magnificent. They can reach a height of 40m and measure 1.5m in diameter. It is difficult to gaze upon a red cedar and not be utterly amazed by its beauty and grandeur. These trees are tall and strong. Their branches reach out far and wide so that their leafy foliage casts a thick blanketing shadow on the earth below. The wood of these trees is beautiful and highly sought after by master craftsmen. As with most cedars, this one has a rich fragrance that seeps in and delivers a sense of warmth to you very soul. If I were a bird, I would nest in a Red Cedar. Well, in the spring time I would…

The cedar tree is deciduous. During the winter its leaves fall away and it is left bare and exposed to the elements. In essence, its beauty falls away, and for the long months of winter the Red Cedar is more haunting than beautiful. The seasons can be harsh. But the cedar tree knows how to survive.

To become so magnificent  the cedar tree needs to be well grounded. For this to happen, the cedar tree must drive its roots deep into the soil. The purpose here is two-fold. Firstly, a good and healthy root system enables the cedar to stand in all its glory through all seasons. These trees are big. To simply stand under the weight of their splendour means that their roots must be deeply grounded in solid soil. Secondly, it is from the soil that these trees find their nourishment, especially when the seasons are harsh.

We are not so very different from the Red Cedar. If we are to become something magnificent and be able to stand firm through all of the seasons of life, we need to consider where we lay our roots…

 

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God… (Ephesians 3:14-19)

The season I find myself in is harsh. The winter has been long and bleak. But I am thankful to know that I am rooted and grounded in love. The winter will not last forever, and even he spring will bring new challenges with it. But I know the one who holds me and nourishes me. His love is real, and the hope He offers is secure. Explanation will not bring healing to the wounds. The hurt is never numbed in anyway by answers. But the strength to stand in the midst of suffering comes from love. This is the key to freedom, being rooted and grounded in love.

No matter what season you are in, tend to your roots. If you don’t know how, ask the Father who is in heaven to show you. He answers prayer and He promises that whoever searches for Him in earnest, will find Him. Read you Bible, from there you will find nourishment for your soul. If you don’t know where to start, read one of the gospels to find out who Jesus is – my personal favourite is John. Jesus Christ is the best friend you will ever know.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)