Is it Time to Stop Being Spiritual?

For years I’ve been a strong advocate of the word ‘spiritual’. This was mainly because it acted as a handy alternative to the word ‘religious’. People often refer to themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’ because religious feels restrictive and burdensome. Whereas spiritual sounds lighter, freer and more expansive.

But I’ve come to realise that the word ‘spiritual’ also has its shortcomings. A ‘spiritual’ experience suggests something otherworldly, something distinct from our everyday humdrum experience, something that transcends our physical selves. It hints at escapism. And much of my spiritual journey was precisely about trying to find those experiences. The charismatic worship services I attended were about losing yourself in worship, and calling for God’s Spirit to come down and touch us.

But the more I look at the life of Jesus, the more I realise that he wasn’t spiritual in that sense. In challenging the Temple system and the priesthood, Jesus was challenging the idea that God could only be found in certain places and at certain times, in rituals led by certain people. Instead, Jesus shows us that God was to be found by those with eyes to see him. For these people God could be found on a mountain and in the market places. In the questions of a priest and in the answers of a poor, blind man. in a glass of wine, and in a pool of water. In a prayer, and in a shout of rebuke.

How then, can we gain these eyes to see.

Here’s where my new favourite word comes in. We need ‘soulfulness’ (for more on this word, check out our interview with Brian Draper).

To me, soul sounds deep, it sounds deliberate, it sounds considered, it sounds embodied and holistic. We have soul mates, we eat soul food, we listen to soul music. Soul moves us.

The ‘soul’ is a notorious difficult concept to pin down. I think though it hints at our essential self, the self that is trying to break through our surface self, our anxious, rushed, demanding, attention seeking self. As someone once said, ‘soul is the flower growing up through the cracks in the concrete paving of our lives.’ It’s the calm centred self. The waves of our ego may be crashing down on the surface, but if we swim down deep enough we find calm, we find the soul.

But how do we live soulfully?

It’s slowing down, taking our time, learning to appreciate the small things. Soulfulness isn’t firing off a prayer, it’s sitting quietly in God’s presence. It isn’t giving the lawn a quick cut before dashing off to the shops, it’s standing for a minute smelling the freshly cut grass. It’s letting the chocolate melt on your tongue before swallowing it.

Soulfulness doesn’t distinguish between mind, body and spirit, its holistic, it draws you together. It is those activities that energise us and make us feel whole. It’s where we find God.

Jesus was soulful, he was deep, he was deliberate, he saw God in everything, and he’s urging me to do the same.


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