What is Spirituality?

[ 27 ] Comments

by jendoop

A friend recently asked on Facebook, “What does Spirituality mean to you?”

What is our definition of spirituality in the gospel? Does it simply mean any situation in which we feel the Spirit, which implies a connection to our religious ideals? Some people see yoga and meditation with simple phrases a wholly adequate form of spiritual practice, without commandments or specific guidance.

As often happens our gospel vocabulary contains different meanings than the same words used by the larger world. We’re faced with this inconsistency of meanings in our debate over marriage. In the church we believe marriage is foremost a covenant between man, woman and God. While the world views it as a legal contract with certain benefits. Another example is agency, as Elder Hales explained in a 2010 talk. I bring these up just as examples to point out that when we, as LDS people, talk about spirituality we might be losing our meaning in the course of the conversation because what we mean by spirituality and what someone else means could be hugely different things.

What specifically does spirituality mean to you? Does it involve yoga, chanting, and meditation? And if it does is that in any way inconsistent with the gospel?

Are there other words in our religious vocabulary that have different meanings in our larger culture which we should be aware of?

About jendoop

Jen writes, reads, paints, walks, prays, eats and sleeps. Paul is her co-conspirator in teaching these skills to 4 children.

27 Responses to What is Spirituality?

  1. Lisa says:

    I should hope that doing yoga is still consistent with the gospel. But it should replace the gospel. I do yoga, and I love the quiet breathing and meditation. It is just as lovely as when I ponder the scriptures.

  2. Paul says:

    Spirituality, to me, refers to things of the spirit. I believe that religious experience may be spiritual, and spiritual experience may be religious, but those linkages are not necessarily required.

    In its broadest sense, spirituality may refer to any matter relating to spirit, and might encompass experiences with evil spirits, as well, though I personally don’t think of things that way usually.

    My own experience is that my spirit is fed, and my most spiritual moments tend to come, in concert with covenants, ordinances and holy places. The temple is a common place for me to feel the spirit and have spiritual experiences, but so is my home.

    Spirituality for me describes the level of my spiritual growth and experience. A high level of spirituality suggests I’m more in touch with the influence of the spirit in my life.

    I acknowledge that others may have spiritual experiences that are vastly different from mine, either because they are on a different path or at a different place in their path. People in recovery from addiction often refer to that recovery journey as “spiritual but not religious” (primarily because those programs want to avoid affiliation with a particular religious point of view), and I’m ok with that thought. I believe that eventually things of the spirit will lead people to our Father in Heaven in time. He certainly has power to guide people home as they are prepared to feel His guidance.

    • MSKeller says:

      I was going to write something quite similar, then I pretty much agreed with everything you all ready said so eloquently. So I’ll just offern an Amen.

      I think that there are many words that we define/ understand differently. Some being:


      to name just a few. Unless we want to get caught up in a game of semantics, it is paramount that we understand our audience when we are attempting to discuss topics and especially ones that turn controversial. If we can pull back from a discussion and ask others to ‘share with me how you understand. . . (insert word/topic in question here)’, before continuing, both will be better served.

      Sometimes I’m spiritual when I’m not involved in religiousity (and visa versa as Paul said) to me, it means connecting with my soul or that which is beyond the temporal.

  3. Howard says:

    I agree with what Paul wrote, spirituality is anything of the spirit or of the spirit world which includes getting to our goal the celestial kingdom. The gospel and religion are moralizations of spirituality it is a simplified dumbed down approximation of the spiritual path to heaven. Don’t mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon!

    Be still and know that I am God (yoga and meditation) refers to centering precisely in the eternity of the present as a preparatory step to hearing and *communing* with deity. This is a very different and much more advanced conversational relationship with the divine than the common LDS method of fasting and *pleading* prayer used to *petitioning* the Lord! When we petition the Lord we are imposing our frame of reference and our desires on him. When you think about it this is a pretty stupid thing to do, it assumes the universe revolves around us and our petty wants and desires. Being still (calmly listening) and communing (having a divine conversation) connects us with God, it is a relationship rather than a request! Being still (being in the present) sets aside the cravings we are pleading for, pausing those immature desires. But being still first connects us with ourselves and there is much introspective work to be done inside before we are ready commune beyond ourselves.

    • Paul says:

      While I agree that the God’s-will-seeking prayer is better than the lift of demands, I also note that the Savior actively taught us to plead with the father, to knock.

    • Jendoop says:

      While I like your observation that stillness and communing are an important part of communication with God (AKA prayer or meditation), I also think that letting God know what we’re thinking, how we see things unfolding, what role we’d like him to play in our lives and what our true desires are is part of our relationship with him. To not take our wants and needs to him seems insincere or dishonest. He isn’t interested in only our following him, he’s also interested in our development, desires, ambitions, and engagement in life without being commanded.

      • Howard says:

        Sure I think this is a great place to begin to get acquainted with God in a conversational way but as we move ahead in our relationship with him, in our ability to commune with him it becomes obvious that he already knows these thinks, he our mind. So then what do we talk about?

  4. Bonnie says:

    I think spirituality is one of those misappropriated words, personally. It becomes airy-fairy and unstructured, almost an anything goes sort of connection with the divine – very 60s do-your-own-thing. And there’s an element of that, I think, in true spirituality. But I find dichotomies in the gospel everywhere I look, balances that must be maintained. And structure in our spirituality, in my opinion, comes from obedience. There is a not-so-subtle tutoring that comes from aligning ourselves to God, and there is a humility that comes from aligning ourselves with God’s prophets, his ordinances, and his commandments. Joseph Smith was deeply committed to the revelatory nature of the gospel, the individual path to discipleship, but he also revealed the ordinances and commandments and Church that provides structure. Elder Maxwell gave a talk in General Conference that has been circulating in my mind for a couple of weeks. In it he said,

    “Ironically, inordinate attention, even to good things, can diminish our devotion to God. For instance, one can be too caught up in sports and the forms of body worship we see among us. One can reverence nature and yet neglect nature’s God. One can have an exclusionary regard for good music and similarly with a worthy profession. In such circumstances, the ‘weightier matters’ are often omitted.”

    For me, spirituality is seeking further light and knowledge through a combination of prayer, pressing, obedience, and submitting.

  5. Howard says:

    Sure obedience is a necessary beginning lesson, it teaches the discipline required to achieve more advanced learning but it is not an end unto itself, we won’t be practicing obedience in the celestial kingdom, obedience is a mortal concept used for controlling natural man behavior. Obedience is transcended and obsoleted by the refining process of submitting combined with the mighty change of heart which once reached renders the beginning concept of obedience largely meaningless and those experiences are eclipsed by communing with and becoming one with God.

    • Bonnie says:

      So when Jesus had achieved his perfection, his godhood, and served as a perfect obedient example, he was merely doing something meaningless? Hogwash. Obedience is the first principle of power. Even the Father is obedient to laws, honors covenants, and is bound by principles. It is not infant pablum.

      • Howard says:

        Really? What exactly does obedience mean to you once you have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually??? How does obedience then apply? how can it apply? Obedience is transcended and obsoleted by the mighty change of heart! It is left behind as memory artifact having no meaningful relevance in the presence after the mighty change of heart.

        You learned to “carry the one” to add as a child but most people don’t need to so that as an adult so carrying the one becomes transparent to their addition process. This is similar to what happens with obedience as we advance. Obedience is just a beginning lesson.

        • Bonnie says:

          It is still obedience, Howard. Your definition of obedience is childish. It’s a principle that grows with us, every bit as much as every other principle that finds full maturity in development. I do not need to bend myself so much as I learn obedience, but it is still obedience – just a more harmonious form.

          • Howard says:

            Childish? You’re offering a stretch-to-fit definition that is so elastic and so rarely used in practice the word looses it’s useful meaning. I’m not talking about dutiful submission or compliance, there is nothing dutiful, submissive or complying about it and the point I’m making isn’t about semantics at all, it is far more tangible.

            Post mighty change of heart looks completely different than pre with totally different implications. It is those differences you are obscuring and conflating rather than acknowledging by your uncommonly broad definition of obedience.

            So to continue the discussion please speak to the *concept* of pre and post mighty change of heart rather than arguing the semantics.

          • Bonnie says:

            Howard, after this many interactions across time, I knew how you would reply and I knew that we would differ. I have no stomach for disagreement for its own sake, and it certainly undermines your constant affirmations that you have risen to some esoteric higher level. The fact is, your approach to the LDS Church is different from the intents of this site. Please read the vision and comment policy carefully. This is not Mormonism 101. At Real Intent we aren’t debating activity in Church being a necessity; we aren’t debating the core principles, like obedience, being critical to our progress – and those are things on which you have a very unique perspective. Please read our vision and comment policy. To say that the way I’m defining obedience is so elastic and rarely used in practice that it loses its meaning demonstrates that you’ve been away from the Church, picking at it from the outside, for too long.

    • Jendoop says:

      We will definitely be practice obedience in the celestial kingdom as it will be fully populated by imperfect beings, which will need God’s continuing tutelage = commandments, to which we will be obedient.

      God will always be our God, and if we are righteous we will obey Him. If you want to call that by a different name because we’ll be perfected that can be your personal preference, but it muddies the waters. Obedience, here or in the hereafter, is obedience.

      • Howard says:

        Okay, well shall we agree to disagree here then?

        • Brittany says:

          Howard, you seem to define obedience as “following God’s will even though we don’t want to”, while Bonnie and jendoop are defining it somewhat differently, where our desires to follow or not are not relevant. Semantics. In fact, I think all of the distinctions between “mortal practice” and “spiritual reality” you made in your comment below kind of sound like splitting hairs to me.

          • Howard says:

            So you find the difference between being obedient and no longer having the disposition to do evil, but to do good continually hair splitting?

          • Brittany says:

            You talk about “the mighty change of heart” like born-again Christians talk about being “saved.” Numerous general authorities have stated that conversion is a life-long process for most people. It seems to me like you came here to tell all your brothers and sisters that they’re doing the Gospel wrong, and that doesn’t sound like having a disposition to do good to me.

          • Brittany says:

            You say humility is replaced by ego reduction, I would say practicing humility is replaced by being a humble person (one who has a smaller ego). You say reverence is replaced by communing with God, I say practicing reverence is replaced by becoming a reverent person. Practicing obedience vs acquiring an obedient nature. Someone for whom doing the Lord’s will is part of their nature is someone who has no disposition to do evil. It is semantics.

  6. Howard says:

    Oops …most people don’t need to as an adult so carrying the one becomes transparent…

  7. Howard says:

    The natural man is to be “thrown off” not perfected. The process for throwing off the natural man is the *spiritual* experience of the mighty change of heart not the mortal process of obedience.

  8. Howard says:

    Obedience is behavior that temporary mortally mimics the spiritually acquired no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. Humility is behavior that temporary mortally mimics spiritually acquired ego reduction. Reverence is behavior that temporary mortally mimics spiritually communing with God. They are just mortal practice for spiritual reality!

  9. Ray DeGraw says:

    I see spirituality, in essence, as a connection with the divine – and my problem with many discussions of spirituality is when people assume what connects them to the divine will connect anyone else to the divine.

    God speaking to everyone according to their own language includes “spiritual languages” – and I believe there are as many spiritual languages as their are verbal languages. Hence, lists of multiple gifts of the spirit.

    • templegoer says:

      I’m much more comfortable with that definition of gifts of the spirit Ray. Thankyou. An howard, I’m really enjoying your idea of transcending the stimulus. We start by obeying, then we become someone who has no more disposition to do evil, and so we begin to enjoy becoming closer to the nature of God. We begin to share His view.

  10. Monica Lynn says:

    I also think of spirituality as anything that connects us with the Father and with our deeper spiritual selves through the spirit.

    I love yoga and used to practice regularly. A lot of “yogis” fell yoga and meditation is spiritual because it connects them to a deeper part of themselves. I personally didn’t think it was the yoga-ism that increased my spirituality, but that by giving myself the time to work out physically and mentally clearing out a space of peace and quiet I was giving the Spirit a place and a time to communicate with me without distraction. I found myself having quite wonderful spiritual experiences because I not only could hear and pay attention to the spirit, but because I had time to ponder and think on those things before returning to my busy day.

    There are so many things that can do that for us and I love the comments made earlier about spiritual gifts and languages. Mine are nature and yoga and naps among many others, but each of us has a unique collection of spiritual languages 🙂

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