It’s easy to lampoon people who are “hyper-spiritual”. Perhaps, like me, you’ve smirked quietly when someone who considers themselves “holier than thou” loses composure when their toddler spills juice on the carpet. Or if you’ve seen the 2008 kids’ movie Kung Fu Panda, you’ve probably laughed at Master Shifu’s unspiritual annoyance at the eager but blundering Po.
As a person who grew up in what you’d call a religious environment, I’m horrified at the prospect of being lampooned as hyper-spiritual. Because of my background, it would be easy for me to fall into the trap of observing the outward forms of spirituality and unconsciously pressuring people around me to do the same, while on the other hand have a glaring character flaw that’s obvious to everyone except me. Consequently, I’ve spent decades pursuing an authentic, practical spirituality. By this I mean building a lifestyle where my day-to-day actions are grounded, genuine and more than just skin-deep. I’ve found a few tips and tricks along the way that I think are worth sharing.
What does spirituality mean? YouTube comedian J P Sears expresses the common view that “no-one knows what that actually is”. I, on the other hand, am brave enough to hazard a definition. Spirituality describes how a person puts their beliefs about supernatural things into practice. You may, for example, have beliefs about the existence of karma, angels, God, honouring the dead, an afterlife, etc. But it’s only when beliefs about these things are put into action that spirituality emerges.
Beliefs about supernatural things emerge because, at the most basic level, humans face two problems that exceed the boundaries of the natural world. The first problem is death. Throughout history, humans have believed that there must be some supernatural loophole to cheat death and get to an ideal afterlife. The second problem is that humans across space and time experience a persistent and deep-seated sense of unease, and feel a need to be “at peace” or “in harmony” with God, or Self or Nature or the Universe. Consequently, spiritual practices in general—meditation, prayer, pilgrimages, fasting—are expressions of the desire to be in harmony with the supernatural.
So which spirituality?
So if all spirituality addresses the same basic problems, then are they all equally valid? My answer to this question is “no”. If the supernatural is real then obviously there are some things that won’t work to bring a person into harmony, the same as there are some diets that won’t work to make a person healthy.
So which spirituality? For me it’s important that my spirituality is grounded—not on a set of traditions or on a vague feeling in my spleen—but on reality. For example, if I sincerely believed that the earth rested on the back of a turtle, and it was turtles all the way down, my sincerity would not make my belief true. This is why it’s important to me to weigh up the evidence.
Consequently, I have grounded my spirituality on a real, historical event, for which there is ample evidence: That around 2000 years ago in the Middle East, Jesus of Nazareth was executed and came back to life just as He predicted, and showed Himself to hundreds of people. As the saying goes, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” If Jesus cheated death and found that loophole into the afterlife, then I’m willing to trust His explanations about supernatural realities recorded in the Bible. Furthermore, I continue to find the spirituality of Jesus Christ refreshing, authentic and pleasantly very far from the lame “hyper-spiritual” stereotype. Here’s how I’ve been trying to apply His example in my own life.
#1 Be free and creative!
At the heart of Jesus’ explanation of spirituality is the concept of freedom. A New Testament writer, the apostle Paul, explains that Jesus’ death and resurrection was intentional, that its purpose was to offer humans freedom, and that the purpose of freedom is freedom itself: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). So while Jesus did not speak in terms of harmony and disharmony, He did speak in terms of slavery and freedom. He described a spiritual person as being free like the wind: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Putting freedom at the centre of spirituality is both exciting and liberating. A person who is free has a will that is not bound by physical and chemical processes, but that has the power to make change on the natural world. This is the essence of God-given creativity; to “make things up” that have never been. Thus creativity is tied up with authentic spirituality and extends to such things as building a bridge over a creek, writing a song, organising a birthday party or coding a computer app.
#2 “Do it all to the glory of God”
But surely, nerding up some computer code is as far from spiritual as you can get, yes? Well, no. Not according to the Bible. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) or “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This perspective shows that there need be no gap between “spiritual” and “mundane”, but that even everyday things can be elevated. This means it’s possible for me in my high school classroom to teach to glorify God, or to ride my bike to glorify God, or to clean the kitchen to glorify God.
Eric Liddell, the Scottish sprinter who competed in the 1924 Olympics, summed it up in his famous quote, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” This idea of living to the glory of God goes beyond mindfulness and gratitude. It captures the idea of living life as a response, in harmony with the Creator Himself. As I’m growing in this, I’m coming to the realisation that living to the glory of God is eclipsing my drive for money and recognition, and even security.
#3 Serve other people
Obviously, there are some things that you can’t do to the glory of God. There are things that are the opposite of spiritual and are described in the Bible as “carnal” or “works of the flesh”. Jesus said, for example, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride and foolishness” (Mark 7:20–22, NLT*). The common thread here is selfishness, and the purpose of freedom is not selfishness, but service. As the apostle Paul says, “Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13,14).
#4 Right place, right time
The biblical account shows that Jesus’ approach to life often seemed haphazard, yet He was regularly and remarkably “in the right place at the right time” for serendipitous encounters where He was able to serve others. These serendipitous meetings bear witness that Jesus lived in harmony with God moment by moment. The key to Jesus’ successful method seems to be that He regularly spent time alone in prayer, often outdoors, and that during this prayer time the communication went two ways. This focused prayer time put Him in deep harmony with God. Here’s an example:
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come’” (Mark 1:35–38).
To Jesus’ followers, this sudden decision to abandon His admirers in that town and move on must have seemed haphazard—illogical even. But the momentum of Jesus’ life was driven by the Spirit-wind He’d talked about—a wind that could not yet be seen or heard by His followers.
I’ve discovered that the hardest thing about learning to be “in the right place at the right time” is dealing with the sense of panic when events seem to go awry. For example, I lose my keys and spend an extra six minutes looking for them, but this delay places me in the right position to meet an acquaintance who needs support hours later. In this context, Jesus’ warning against worrying snaps into focus: “Do not worry about your life. . . . but seek first [God’s] kingdom” (Matthew 6:25,33). In other words, instead of panicking, take a moment to be curious and ask, What is God doing in this situation? For me, learning to be in the right place at the right time is gradually displacing a sense of busyness and restlessness.
Over to you
For me, “right place, right time” is the sweet spot that is the culmination of my beliefs about the supernatural world. It lies at the intersection of human freedom, serving other people and “doing all to the glory of God.” There’s nothing “hyper-spiritual” about it and I’ve found over the years that continuing to seek out the right place at the right time through a prayer connection with God results in God putting me into situations that give Him an opportunity to heal the blind spots in my soul. It’s a practice that is unique, authentic, brings peace and is highly satisfying.
Jotham Kingston is a high school religion teacher. He lives with his family near Kempsey, on NSW’s mid-north coast.
* Bible verses marked NLT are used with permission from the New Living Translation, copyright © 2015, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois.