What is a Healthy Spiritual Life?
What is a healthy spiritual life? Spirituality can take many different forms, but not all are healthy. Some forms of spirituality endorse racism or violence. Some forms of spirituality are anxiety defenses leading to dogmatism and prejudice. Some forms of spirituality are guilt driven depriving individuals with a strong sense of self. Some forms of spirituality are little more than a compulsion to spiritual practices, e.g., worship attendance, or Bible reading, or fasting.
So what is a healthy spiritual life? Listed below are some items for your consideration. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but the beginning of a conversation. What would you include in your list?
I believe that a healthy spiritual life will include:
1. An experience of transcendence. The foundation for a healthy spiritual life is a life changing encounter with the divine. It is an experience that leaves the individual aware that there is something greater than one’s self. In his book, The Idea of the Holy, Rudolf Otto characterized this encounter as “numinous.” Three characteristics of a numinous experience are: awe, dread, and a realization of one’s mortality. It is best described in the biblical call of Isaiah in which he had a vision of God and said, “Woe is me.”
2. A purpose and meaning for living. As a result of the experience of transcendence, one has a sense of calling to a higher purpose. Following this call will give the life a focus and direction even in the midst of difficulty and struggle.
3. A love for self and others. Because life is following a call, there is opportunity to engage with others. A healthy attachment to others, or empathic living, grows out of a healthy sense of self. It is because we know that God loves us that we can first love ourselves and then love others.
4. A commitment to lifelong learning and a willingness to grow. The apostle Paul encouraged his readers to judge themselves with a “sober judgement” (Romans 12:3). It means to accurately recognize one’s abilities and limitations. This is the meaning of humility. When there is an honest judgment of one’s abilities and limitations, there is a willingness and desire to grow and learn; there is a recognition that there is so much that we don’t yet know and a yearning to know as much as possible. A healthy spirituality will always be seeking new knowledge of God, self, and the world.
5. An openness to mystery and questions. The result of humility is a disdain for certitude. The apostle Paul reminds us that the “necessary knowledge” is knowing that we don’t know (1 Corinthians 8:2). A healthy spirituality is not frightened by different opinions or beliefs, but is always ready to listen and even learn from other points of view.
6. An effective embrace of the struggle of living. There is no guarantee that life well lived will be life without struggle. In fact, the best perspective on living recognizes that struggle, grief, disappointment, distress, and even death, are a natural part of life. Healthy spirituality will not spend long asking the question why, but will actively engage the challenge of what now.