Reflections on Spirituality

An overview of Evolve’s pieces on spiritual practice—from personal, liturgical and practice-based standpoints.

What are the implicit and explicit beliefs and assumptions on which our spiritual practices rest? For those of us who do not believe in a God who literally hears the words and contents of our prayers, intervenes to cause things to happen in our lives based on what we deserve or perhaps is even a recognizable person with a consciousness that resembles human mind, this question is both fascinating and complex. Why be “spiritual” at all if you don’t believe in the traditional images and conceptions of God?

First, a definition. We use the term “spiritual” to denote experience that relates to the interconnectedness of all things in the universe and/or to levels of being deep inside of us or elevated in another unseen realm. You don’t have to believe in God to be “spiritual,” according to this definition. Nor does a “spiritual” person have to pray or observe rituals.

In fact, there are many different spiritual types or paths—different ways to experience interconnectedness or the unseen depths of the psyche. A single person can feel at home exclusively in one of them or through a combination of them. And one person’s “type(s)” often changes throughout their lifetime. Four major types described in studies of spirituality are:

Cognitive/intellectual. Some people are transported beyond themselves when they study Talmud (alone or in hevruta) or read about astrophysics or history.

Devotional/emotional. Some people find themselves in an altered state when they pray, sing, chant or sit in contemplative practice.

Activistic. Some people connect to the sense of a greater purpose when they help other people or organize to fight injustice and/or serve of committees that build community.

Iconoclastic. Some people see through the inadequacy of all human endeavors that seek to represent and embody the Divine or True Reality. They open to the ineffability (beyond words and understanding) of the Divine by exposing these inadequacies.

Perhaps because of our conviction that spiritual practice is valuable independent of whether and how you believe in God, we sometimes fail to articulate what we do believe and how our practices relate to our beliefs. We have invited our writers to explore this question and also invite readers to respond to these essays in writing or in our web conversations.

-Jacob Staub

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