In a postmodern world, many people want to be free of the ‘institutional’ church and practices. In fact, for some, their experiences with a church or faith group may have been hurtful or frustrating. Regardless, there is an essential element of total well-being where people still want to talk about and explore this very important part of existence – ‘spirituality’.
What is Spirituality?
Service life can often open ‘doors’ to deeper thoughts and questions due to the necessity of encountering unique military service, war-like experiences, and/or far-reaching and challenging humanitarian circumstances. Such encounters provide opportunity for ‘deeper’ life experiences, thoughts, and emotions, prompting further searching.
In addressing these matters, often relating to a ‘higher Being’ or ‘God’, questions and feelings arise that haven’t previously been addressed and personnel are left floundering. Reflection may help some gain a stronger relationship/connection with ‘God’. For another, it may recall and/or challenge previously held beliefs and values about ‘God’ and life. This is commonly referred to as one’s ‘Spirituality’. Thinking about spirituality might help reform thinking about who we are, and what on earth we’re doing here. It can also bring greater health and well-being to one’s whole-being – by addressing matters pertaining to body, mind, soul, spirit, and connectedness, or total health.
The World Health Organisation defined health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’1. According to this definition health has a positive and a negative aspect. Health is the absence of disease or illness: this is its negative aspect. Far more significantly, however, health is the presence of well-being in all the departments of life.2 When we look at health in this way, in turning to spirituality, suddenly our eyes can be opened to the broader concepts of wholeness. Spirituality addresses ‘all the departments of life’, or total well-being.
Different people interpret spirituality in different ways. Today, spirituality is often not identified with a religious institution (church) or Faith Group. This is not seen as a criticism, but rather is a personal opportunity to awaken the spirit within. This is about a person’s relationship with ‘God’, not their relationship with a Faith Group.
Some common understandings of spirituality are:
• Life's meaning and importance
• Values, beliefs, reflection, character, awe and ethics
• Awareness of life beyond oneself
• Connection between you, others, that which is meaningful, and God
• Reflecting on life and its connection with your soul/spirit
The following contains a more formal understanding of spirituality:
Spirituality is a dynamic and intrinsic aspect of humanity through which persons seek ultimate meaning, purpose and transcendence, and experience relationship to God, self, family, others, community, society, nature, and the significant or sacred. Spirituality is expressed through beliefs, values, traditions, and practices.3
Often, those with a sense of spirituality also have a spiritual identity (Faith Group) which helps anchor their experience. Chaplains encourage you to explore spiritual issues and to develop a spiritual resilience. The ADF Guide to Religion provides further context for the expression of spirituality in the Air Force.
Spirituality is often expressed through activities which enable personnel to be part of ‘something bigger’. This is known as spiritual connection. Such connection varies from person to person, but often (though not necessarily) results in spending time with others at worship and participating in community activities. Talking with your Chaplain can help sift through spiritual/faith matters.
1. John Wilkinson, Health and Healing, 1980, pvii
2. Wilkinson, p5
3. Adapted from Puchalski et al, Journal of Palliative Medicine, 12:886-904, and endorsed by the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services (2018)