Spiritual life- An Introduction
It is not surprising to see that many religious traditions are often termed as a way of life than mere philosophy. The very idea of a way of life raises our eyebrows and throws in a plethora of questions. What is the spiritual life? Is it any different from our ordinary worldly life? Spiritual life can be defined as a path that is closer to God or the ultimate truth. A life that radiates with complete positive energy. It is not different from our daily lived realities. But it is the process of transforming the ordinary experiences to the ultimate through well-defined practices prescribed by different spiritual orders. The spiritual life usually consists of two aspects.
- Ritualistic – involving daily rituals for purifying the soul
- Practical- a reflection of this purity in our daily activities by abstaining from negative actions and offering selfless service.
Spirituality and the Scriptures
All the world religions came into existence for the sole purpose of elevating human experience to a higher path that is pure and spiritual. But for an average human being, the idea of God and spirituality was always incomprehensible. In this context, the concept of scriptures or sacred texts became an important aspect of every religion.
These texts often compiled wisdom, spiritual practices, and guidelines for everyday living. They were also a reference for rituals and prescriptions for spiritual life commonly interpreted by priests and scholars. In the tradition of Abrahamic religions, it is very evident that these texts were revealed to prophets from time to time. The faith related to the revealed nature of the word of God has rendered it as the final authority in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
Christian Spirituality – The early formation
Christian spiritual life is centered on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Many theologians consider it as an ‘Imitation of the life of Christ’ in its complete sense. The book ‘The Imitation of Christ’ by Thomas Von Kempis inspired by the biblical teaching underlines this fact. Similarly, St Augustine echoes this view when he opines “the imitation of Christ is the fundamental purpose of Christian life and a remedy for the limitation of the sins of Adam”.
But how can an individual imitate Christ in his/her life? There is only a single answer to that question – the Holy Bible. The Holy Bible is an authentic source that guides Christian spiritual life. The teachings, prophecies, and stories from the Bible lay the foundation of the spiritual formation of a Christian. A close examination of the Bible reveals that there is a gradual evolution of the ideas of spirituality moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
Biblical Spirituality – The Old Testament
The Old Testament in the Bible deals with the events before the coming of Jesus and is often concerned with the bond between God and Israel. It is the common ancestry shared by the Abrahamic religions. The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy lay down the rules for spiritual practices in a detailed manner. These practices were very ritualistic and seen as a modification of the pagan rituals prevalent during that period.
In the book of Leviticus, most chapters deal with the ‘dos and don’ts’ in spiritual practices. Purity is one of the underlying ideas explained in the book. But evidently, the onus was on keeping the body pure. The animal sacrifices, covenant, and associated rituals were all primarily conducted for attaining this purity. The spiritual traditions in the Old Testament are based on revelations by prophets and the priest, where a personal bond with God is missing.
Biblical Spirituality – The New Testament
A reformed version of spirituality is evident in the New Testament with a more practical and universal approach. The ‘Christ-centered’ nature of the New Testament shifted the spiritual domain to the one that is liberating, equal, and action-oriented. Yet the modern practices in the Christian denominations such as baptism and other sacraments draw its theological basis from the New Testament. The ritualistic grandeur and rigor present in the Old Testament were gracefully replaced with the spirit.
On the practical aspects, Jesus realigned the Ten Commandments into a deep but profound call for altering human behavior into that of love and compassion. Jesus proclaimed “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind and with all your strength. The second is this: love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these”. (Mark 12: 29-31) The New Testament places the purity of the mind as the main theme and establishes a personal bond between man and the almighty god.
In contemporary Christian life, various spiritual practices are based on biblical teachings. These practices take inspiration from both the old and the new testaments.
1. Bible reading- the reverence of ‘word of god’ and listening to sermons based on it is a central aspect in everyday Christian spiritual life. ‘Lectio Divina’ or divine reading is the term often attributed to meditative bible reading practiced by monks and the laypeople alike.
2. Sacraments – the holy sacraments in Catholicism and the community gathering in all Christian denominations are based on the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament.
3. Personal Prayer – one on one communication with God is an important aspect in the spiritual life along with the community prayers. The Lord’s prayers –our father who art in heaven, taught by Jesus is the most important prayer that guides a Christian’s spiritual life.
4. Fasting and Penance – both old and new testaments emphasize the need for fasting as a major spiritual practice in the fight against evil. Similarly, rituals for repentance for sins are carried out as per the Bible.
5. Charity and Outreach- the life of Jesus as per the Bible is filled with a lot of outreach activities. The Christian spiritual life is also incomplete without reaching out to poor and needy people.
In short, it can be concluded that the Christian spiritual life is shaped, guided, and sustained by the teachings of the Holy Bible.