Spirituality and spiritual readiness are required

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Bob Borger
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Chaplain Service Team
"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience," said Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest.

As a chaplain, I couldn't agree more. But, what does it mean to have a "spiritual experience?" For that matter, what do the terms "spiritual" and "spirtuality" mean? Given the fact that we are to be "spiritually ready" per AFI 36-2618, Enlisted Force Structure, our understanding of those terms is incredibly relevant.

In my eight years of serving as a chaplain, I have had the pleasure of speaking before hundreds of Airmen of all ranks and faith backgrounds regarding the topic of spirituality. I always ask the same question: "How many of you believe that some aspect of your being continues after death?" Without exception, about 85 percent say that they do. When asked what part of them "continues," they promptly respond with the terms "soul" or "spirit."

I then ask, "How do you go about developing spiritual readines?" Usually there comes a long pause (I can sometimes even hear crickets). After giving the question some thought, they usually give answers reflective of their faith backgrounds, e.g., reading scriptures going to church, etc. At times I get non-traditional answers related to maintaining healthy relationships or to pursuing activities that develop a sense of inner peace. But I think that one of the most revealing responses was, "You know, chaplain, I haven't given it much thought."

First let's define "spirituality." According to Webster, spirituality is "the state, quality, or fact of being spiritual." Others defined it as a specific way of living some particular aspect of their faith, which is generally understood to refer to their path toward spiritual awareness and realities. According to some, spirituality is a way that provides meaning and purpose for their lives, as well as a way to develop a sense of self and of relationship with that which is greater than self.

Spirituality concerns itself with matters of the spirit. Spiritual matters are those things that involve humankind's ultimate nature, not only as biological organisms, but as beings with a unique relationship to that who some perceive to be beyond both time and the material world.

Therefore, one's faith background profoundly impacts how they view "spirituality." One of my chaplain comrades put it very eloquently: "Faith and religious practices are the means to develop spirituality [which leads to spiritual development and readiness]." With this in mind, let us look at how several faith groups view spirituality and spiritual development.

According to Islam, spirituality is a reflection of one's nearness to Allah, who has appointed the human soul (or spirit) as His Khalifah (vicegerent) in this world. As such, Allah has invested the soul with a certain authority, and given it certain responsibilities and obligations for the fulfillment of Allah's will. In his capacity as the Khalifah of Allah, man is answerable to him for all his activities. Therefore, one should use all his faculties for seeking Allah's approval. The better a man does this, the nearer he will be to Allah.

In the Jewish tradition, to understand the spiritual nature one starts with the creation of man. In describing the creation of Adam, the Torah says, "God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils a soul-breath of life." (Genesis 2:7) Man thus became a living creature, created from physical material, but with his soul coming directly from God's innermost essence, in the same way that a breath issues forth from a person's lungs. Therefore, man is unique among all of God's creations having both a material aspect as well as a soul (or spirit), allowing him to have a relationship with God.

In Christianity there is a contrast between the spiritual or non-material aspects of human personality and life with the physical aspects those being classified as "worldly" or "natural". This contrast is most prevalent in the writings of the Apostle Paul, author of almost half the books of the New Testament. The term "spiritual" is applied generally to those things which exist in the heavenly realms; and for followers of Christ, the term applies more specifically to those who are indwell with the Holy Spirit, understood to be one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

So, what does all this mean on a practical level - what does spirituality mean for us as we go about our daily lives? I would say living a spiritual life means that we are cognizant of how our activities reflect our faith and views of eternity. And what about "spiritual readiness?" One FTAC student put it so well when he said, "It's being right with yourself and with your God."