On May 1st I spoke to a college class called “The Psychology of Spirituality” at Southern Connecticut State University at the invitation of Dr. Jessica Suckle-Nelson. I was surprised and proud that a college would offer such a course. Two and a half hours with vibrant, curious students, and I had the time of my life. I began with deep feeling energy and practice and moved to religious mysticism.
Your spirituality is what pumps you, brings you alive, gets you going. It’s about the depth dimension of life—what matters most to you at the deepest level of your being, that sense you get when something touches you in your soul, the place inside you where your spirituality resides. Spirituality is a charge, as crucial to your well being as your pulse is to your heart. There are just three basic spiritual needs common to us all: to be heard, to be listened to, and to belong.
To support my own ideas, I added a brief quote from Gardening the Soul, Soothing Seasonal Thoughts for Jaded Modern Souls by Sister Stan, Irish Catholic Sister of Charity: “Belief is never far removed from unbelief. Love is never far from hate. Hope is only a short distance from doubt and joy lives side by side with tears.”
That’s it! That’s Spirituality!—the amazing capacity to be truly wholistic, to hold feelings we normally would designate as opposites together in one heart. Most importantly, this spirituality keeps us from quickly condemning others, encourages listening and compassion to help us meet our own and others' needs. AND, it’s close to Jungian psychology, a theory that makes room for the presence of divine energy as a motivating energy in human behavior. I had the psycho/spiritual thing nutshelled!
This occasion started with a granddaughter Gillian, 22, who texted one day: “Hi Grammy, I have a question for you.” It’s tantamount to a Bible-sized miracle for a grandchild to text or call, so I called back right away. She asked if I could come to her class. The teacher, Dr. S, had talked about difficulties Episcopal women had getting ordained, and Gillian volunteered that her Grammy was among the first groups of women ordained priests in the Episcopal Church. Dr. S. is an Episcopalian. Such a perfect storm of wonders!
“Dick, will you go with me and drive, and let’s also take Gillian out for a quick supper, OK? I’m excited and nervous.” “Sure,” he said. “Wear your God Is Not a Boy’s Name tee shirt AND your collar.” I love him.
I was excited that a young audience had some small interest in Spirituality. I was nervous about communicating the sluicy category. How could I leave poor unpopular God and religion out? I could. I did it for many years when I worked as chaplain at an alcohol/drug treatment center.
-This group of 18 twenty-something coeds were eager, open-hearted, respectful, and bright. I will never again lump college kids into stereotypes that suggest they are all politically aggressive, irreverent, anti-religious, or indifferent.
-This group wondered about negative spirituality. If it was personal could it be negative? Their definition was too self-centered, individualistic. Spirituality is personal but not private or unique. Groups have shared spirituality—energy that motivates behavior.
- This group was highly diverse racially, sexually, and spiritually—agnostic, atheist, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and a former Buddhist nun. Diversity challenges identity and belonging: Who am I? Who are you? Where do I belong? I wonder whether the current well-documented high levels of depression and anxiety in college students are in part related to a sense of real or imagined loneliness? The move from tribalism to a common humanity and a common good in which everyone is included and equally valued is, well, good and fraught.
-Most students pressed for answers. I gave them ideas and stories. To be spiritual is to hold possible answers right next to the next set of questions, which surely will arise.
Whether they thought I was nuts or not, they gave me a round of applause, scooped up my calling cards, and one young man suggested they applaud Dick, whom I’d introduced as my driver who could only speak if I called on him. They’d all laughed. Humor is essential to healthy psychology and spirituality. My beloved driver/husband grinned then drove me—exhausted, heartened and bursting with hope—all the way back to Massachusetts.
As to my beloved Gillian, she had sparked the energy of her classmates with lots of questions to help her Grammy keep things moving. She also owned her agnostic approach and persisted with her agnostic questions. How do I know I’m spiritual or when something is spiritual? I told her that not knowing was scary and spiritual. Do the best you can and trust.
Later I texted her this: Chiqui, when you sing you connect to your depths, your soul. And everyone who hears you, even if no one is there but god or a tree or a squirrel, connects to spirit and feels a moment of uplifting hope. “Bidden or not, God is there.” Jung said that. Thanks for being you. Sing always. I loved your class, and so did Grampy Sim. ……. I added a healthy compliment of emojis. Here is Gillian serenading our family at Christmas, 2017.