Throughout history spirituality has been linked to specific convictions and values, calling for a particular life-style, with regular devotion and ritual worship. Christian spirituality cherishes highly the values and virtues of the Gospel: love, compassion, peace with justice … the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.1-12. How these values are appropriated into everyday living is the mission of the Church; to this end the Church provides a repertoire of prayers and devotions along with a sacramental system, to help us engage meaningfully with personal and cosmic living.
Over time competition arose between the different religions, each with its own priorities. In recent years, however, there has been a noticeable commitment all round for coming closer together. As we have seen, there was the presumption that religion and spirituality are essentially the same. In every age the meaning of spirituality and its influence has evolved in cosmic proportions. It is crucial that engagement with spirituality calls for engagement of current cosmic awareness – resulting from multi-disciplinary exploration.
This is showing us that spirituality belongs to the earth and its people and not to some far-away god, or to a state of Nirvana. Above all, it transcends what individual religions claim to represent and as such becomes all-embracing. It is a challenge to break away from human centred systems – religious and political – and claim all creation as home.
Scientists such as Eliade and Jung… among others claim that value is based on an innate and universal desire everyone experiences; values such as: unconditional love, truth, honesty integrity and peace with justice. The Christian ethic quotes the Canticle of Mary to see Jesus as epitomising this: He came to his people to set them free – Luke 1.68. All world religions seek to embrace these values within their own cultural expressions. For the Christian faith this is what is meant by the Kingdom – seen stunningly in Jesus as king riding a donkey – on which, in those days, anyone could ride.
Spirituality is concerned with such values as foundational. Religion, however, is the name we give to the enculturation of such values. Christianity as religion is very much the product of a patriarchal culture, with familiar oppressive results: market competition with the poor side-lined, female suppression… which have no place in the Kingdom Jesus brings. If this is so, it would seem that religion is a temporary reality. Involvement with spirituality is to be enabled to reclaim who we really are through engagement with living the basic values which alone can satisfy every human hunger – this is why Jesus refers to himself as the bread of life – satisfying every hunger. We cannot avoid being people of value.
Not all value is necessarily good, the influence of light and dark is always at work. Value is geared towards life being experienced as whole – as promised by all religions. But our attempts to embody value is influenced by the temptation to selfishness, greed and power-seeking. The person who robs and steals is doing an evil act – not for the sake of evil, but for a perceived good! In a world of so much suffering and evil such an example can seem trivial. Our human desire for fullness of life can be distorted, while the ultimate goal is always good. Which is why Paul cries out: who will rescue me from this wretched state – Romans 7.24?