In an e-mail conversation yesterday with a colleague about High Holiday services, he asked: “I trust you know what you mean when you say spirituality.” He was right to ask. The word is bandied about so casually, in so many different contexts. All of which made me take stock and think about what I mean.
I’ll cop to being neither as articulate nor as contemplative as many who tackle the topic. If you’re looking for that, I suggest you go else where (but there are a couple of links at the bottom that you might like).
My notion of spirituality has less to do with God and more to do with us humans. I am tempted to use the word soul here, but am afraid someone will protest that there’s no soul without God. For now, cut me some slack, let me use the word in peace, and we’ll leave that discussion for another day.
What I mean when I talk about spirituality is an internal experience that is unrelated to one’s intellect. Simply put, it’s matters of the heart/soul rather than the head/intellect. Which is exactly why it’s so hard to put into words, because the best spiritual experiences transcend language and defy description.
Jay Michaelson wrote an article called Rethinking Jewish Spirituality (http://www.jewcy.com/post/rethinking_jewish_spirituality) in which he captures it pretty well:
Jewish spirituality is, in large part, in the state-change business. At the better synagogues — i.e., the ones which actually care about prayer or spirituality or at the very least a good community feeling — you show up thinking about mortgages and to-do lists, in the middle you’re feeling a holy presence, and afterward you feel refreshed and re-energized. This is what state-change is: moving your mind from one way of being to another… spiritual states have the power to open the mind, nourish the heart, and change the world…. And they can be lots of fun, too.
In case you’re tempted to think he waxes poetic throughout the article, it’s subtitled The Uses and Limitations of Spiritual States and he’s not afraid to talk about the down-side. But be forewarned: it’s a really long piece and after a while he lost my attention. But parts of it were great.
If Michaelson is too heavy for you, there’s a nice, short article called The Human Touch at aish.com by a Jewish physician that isn’t exactly about spirituality, but does epitomize the gap between the intellect and the heart: http://www.aish.com/sp/so/48924497.html.
The next question, to my mind, is what about Jewish spirituality?