Spirituality – what is it?

Inside Heythrop College, a delightful area in Kensington, London, that you'd never guess was there if you didn't know otherwise.

Inside Heythrop College, a delightful area in Kensington, London, that you’d never guess was there if you didn’t know otherwise.

As I take a short break from reading a heavy text – some fifty pages about what a classic is – I consider this new venture of studying and reading in pursuit of a master’s degree in Christian spirituality at Heythrop College, part of the University of London. In one sense I’m not too bothered about the degree in and of itself – who I am at the core won’t change with some letters behind my name. But the degree invites me into the academy, and I’m finding that rather exciting, to my surprise. For as I start to learn the academic language and lingo, I find myself in conversation not only with my fellow MA students, but with the thinkers who make (and made) this their life work. I’m opening the door to another world; a place of conversation and definition and struggle and understanding.

In this first term of study, before we get immersed in primary texts, we’re looking at the definition of what is spirituality. I’ve been itching to get at the classics themselves, but as we go along I’m understanding why we need to spend half of a term on definitions. We all might not agree on what spirituality is, but we all need to have the tools to discuss the subject. And in a university setting, we need publicly available sources with which to have a discussion – we can’t rely on personal experiences. But lest I despair that this is a mere intellectual experience, I’m assured that we can engage personally with these sources; for instance, we can “converse” with Julian of Norwich or Theresa of Avila.

Last week I put our lecturer, Dr Edward Howells (who is fantastic, by the way) on the spot, asking that if he had to make a simple definition of spirituality, what would he say? I like his answer in its simplicity but depth:

A way of seeing all of reality.

What do you think of when you hear the term spirituality? Are you “spiritual but not religious”? Are all people spiritual? How do you express your spirituality?

3 Responses

  1. Damien

    I like the definition for how it sees the picture. I’d say the big picture is made up of smaller ones and that’s where we bring to bear the Bible and our own experiences.

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