Do ‘Spiritual Words’ Mean Anything?

A growing number of people are saying, “No, they don’t”. I beg to differ.

The definitions at Spirithome are my best attempt to make sense out of the most important words used in ‘spiritual’ or ‘mystical’ or ‘religious’ speech and writings, including words that are better not to use at all, or only when talking to specialists.

I understand full well that these words are used for blowing smoke, for blurring the cutting edges of belief, for hiding or disguising a lack of knowledge or the desire to become a ‘spiritual’ star. There’s a lot of distrust, with good reason. You can go ahead and distrust me, too, but before you do, please take the time to read these word meanings. I’m convinced the words (or most of them, anyway) speak to the most important and down-to-earth matters of life. And of what’s beyond life. I also believe that definitions are not only used as a trap, they can also be used as a way out of the traps.

I need to hear from you if the Spirithome definitions are right, or most importantly, what they miss. I ask for your feedback. You can be as opinionated as you want, but I do ask that you stay focused on what is meant by the words. Give it a try.

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Christians and Asian spiritual practices

A Spirithome.com site reader asked in 2003 :


>> The only thing that bothered me is when I did a search on your
>> site and it shows a sponsor for the site being one that is for an
>> Eastern “religious” or spiritual healing technique.

Spirithome is not ‘sponsored’ by anyone. It takes no money. Nor
does Spirithome promote web sites, though two sites do get special
mentions because of their causes : Bread for the World and Habitat
For Humanity. However, some ‘gateway’ sites link to Spirithome, and
they can put up ads for whomever they want on their site as they give
you access to mine. I have no say in that.


>> Eastern “religious” or spiritual healing technique [Reiki].

I have many links on the links pages. They are there to help
people honestly look through the Web on spiritual matters. I’m
there to share the love of Christ with people on the Web, not
to ‘sell’ Jesus like a commodity. I do have links to
non-Christian spiritual stuff, and use it sometimes in explaining
the Christian faith. While I believe these can’t take you all the
way through to God or make you good with God, they can
sometimes be informative and helpful. Asian techniques are not always
anti-Christian. Some of them are simply real discoveries about
the human body and mind
which were made within a non-Christian
culture and were thus explained in a non-Christian way, as they
knew how. A Christian would need to learn it thoroughly, and
mesh it with the Bible and the main framework of the
Christian faith, knowing there are likely to be some points of
contact, just as Thomas Aquinas did with classic Greek
philosophy, and as early Celtic Christians did with their culture.
God works in non-Christians, too, and Christians can adapt from
them whatever builds people up or teaches them better, so long as
it’s understood in a gospel way.

Today’s Christians are doing this with yoga and tai chi,
with much practical benefit. These practices haven’t done
much good for me personally, but they’ve been very helpful
for the spirituality of other Christians that I know. The main
benefit appears to be that by gearing their bodies down, they
can be in better touch with their bodies and their thoughts. I
don’t know enough about Reiki to know if there are comparable
benefits from it, so I won’t comment on its use.

I wish the Christians who are convinced of the value of
yoga and tai chi would take much more seriously the task
of fully re-thinking them in a way that springs from the
core of Christian faith and the gospel.
But most of the
explanations I’ve read mostly cut-and-paste the Asian-
religions’ explanations (including some theories about inner forces
and spirits which mesh poorly with what Jesus taught, and sometimes
even verge on pseudo-science), and then sprinkle Christian
theological and/or spiritual chatter and/or Bible citations over
it like sesame seeds on a bun — it sits on top but doesn’t
really change the bun. When that’s so, it can’t be
claimed as an expression of their faith in Christ. I’m
hoping some Christians, preferably Asian ones, would take
on this task ‘for the masses’.

Spiritual Shrinkage

A reader at Spirithome.com asked me this question :

>> I hear all this blah blah blah about
>>’spiritual growth’. But is there such a thing as
>> ‘spiritual shrinkage’? <<

There are a lot of folks who say ‘no’, including some of the
wisest spiritual folks around. They say that spiritual
awareness can’t disappear, just like a raised consciousness
supposedly can’t be lowered. Something of it still lingers,
some things about the person can never be the same.

I can see some degree of truth to that, but not enough.
Growth goes up and down and stops and starts. You may not
notice your growth – though sometimes others do. Spiritual
growth is not a constant. And if it can stop, it can go
backward. Sometimes, people spiritually shrink and warp. What
can cause it? Desperation. Fear. Hurt. Greed. Lust. Anger.
Loss. Powerlust. Their spirit becomes shallower. There’s nothing
that can make you shrink. Nothing has the power to
defeat the Spirit’s work in you. Anything that can get you to
shrink can be turned around to make you grow. But that’s easy
to say, hard to live, because of the power you have over you.

You can make choices that will shrink you. So you can shrink spiritually.

Another look at charismatics, 12 years later

Looking back on the points made 27 years ago by Charismatics at Geneva, I can only feel a great sadness. For I look at the landscape of what had then been the the robust, energetic Charismatic movement, and what is there now, the mainline part of it becoming either spent (Lutherans, for example) or reshaped and tamed in a manner better suited for the powers-that-be (like Catholics and Methodists). The ‘Third Wave’ part of it isn’t in much better shape, for while there are many congregations within it that are better than ever, the overall impression is that they’ve lost their vision, and are being blended into a veriety of new mini-movements, or are being taken up by some larger movements that have little to do with following Christ.

I’ll use the points from Geneva that I addressed 12 years ago as a starting point. When I do this, please remember that I am an outside observer, a mainstream Christian who is clearly not (by nearly all of the movement’s own self-definitions) a charismatic, and never has been. I am simply a believer in Christ who insists on being in dialogue with a movement that, even at this stage, is still the main shaping force for many millions of Christians the world over. A believer in Christ who believes that mainstream Christian leaders are still seriously shirking their responsibility as Christians by choosing not to be in real dialogue with them.

In 1980, Charismatics at one of their many conferences saw a series of marks of the Spirit that they believed were present in their movements. These included :

  • New openness toward the healing power
    and the lordship of Jesus;
  • Renewal of spiritual life of the church in
    local congregations;
  • Spontaneity, openness, freedom and joy in
    praise and worship;
  • New interest in the Bible as God’s living
    Word;
  • Deeper experience of the reality, holiness,
    and transcendence of God;
  • Deeper interest and new openness in regard
    to the essential doctrines of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, his
    death and resurrection, confirmed in experience;
  • Renewal of the service of healing for the
    sick;
  • Lay leadership;
  • New incentive for evangelization, missions
    and witness in the power of the Spirit.

I’ll be going over these in upcoming weeks.