A Definition of Spirituality

Defining spirituality can be done in such a way that it does not raise controversy. If I define spirituality as “Whatever is not the mind and the body”, everyone could agree on this definition but it would be totally useless and frankly silly.

Spirituality is important. Therefore, as with anything important, definition creates controversy.  For some, spirituality is centered on a place, like Mecca, or a book, like the Torah.  Some reject organized religion or a deity and look for a definition inside themselves. For researchers, spirituality must be measured. How often do you go to church? How often do you pray? For others, measuring spirituality kills it.

In the nursing literature some have argued that health care occurs in a public space that is particularly secular and that all the effects of spirituality can be explained with psychology. Others argue for a Christian Western perspective linking spirituality to a particular religion. Others argue that we must honor diversity and not mention religion, as if spirituality excludes religion.

All these points of view come to bear when you attempt to define spirituality. As soon as you put one definition forward, someone will say “What about this?”

But let me give it a shot. An old story about nurses helped me define spirituality. The Nurse Midwives in Exodus Chapter 1, Shipporah and Puah, successfully resisted Pharaoh’s Command to commit genocide because of their “Fear of God.”

The original word used for Fear of God is “Yirah.” Yirah can be translated as “God’s Perspective”. These Nurse Midwives saw their problem from God’s Perspective and used this point of view to engage and work through an insoluble problem. For me, spirituality has two characteristics -perspective and engagement which flow from a relationship with a Supreme Being. I define spirituality as that which enables me to see the world from God’s Perspective and gives me the courage and hope to use that perspective to work through the insoluble problems I face as a nurse.

My definition gives me enough confidence to accept and encourage diverse opinions and yet still be able to use spirituality in my practice without timidity. While I don’t have a blood test for spirituality, I have seen its effects in patients and co-workers and think this definition accounts for what I have seen.

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