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The meaning of spirituality is complex, and it has changed throughout my life. In the 1950s and '60s the meaning was visible in the "flower child”/hippie culture, sometimes drug-induced, or in the sayings of a mystic guru, in Hinduism, and usually with an antichurch stance. This secular spirituality wasn't a real interest of mine nor a serious topic of conversation for those of us over 30. Maybe we were a little envious of the freedom espoused. 

At some point later spirituality came to mean physical practices in yoga and tai chi and with an emphasis on meditation. All practices promised to make the individual better, more healthy and able to deal with stress effectively. Who wouldn't want that? My friends and I did talk about this phase of spirituality. I call this "arm's length" spirituality because I could believe it while keeping others at a safe emotional distance. But it didn't "touch my soul" or help with my search for meaning. Neither did it invade my real Christian faith journey except as it recognized the existence of a higher power. 

My Christian belief system always included a dimension of spirituality. “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” are answered differently in my faith. Answers flow from my belief in God, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit as revealed in the Bible and its emerging interpretations. Who am I? – a person created in the image of God. Why am I here? – to actively work to bring God's plan into the world.

For me this spirituality is "up close and personal" while connected to others. Yes, this spirituality led me to regularly attend and support the church, to serve in various roles which reached out to the needs of others, and to interpret social conditions that needed changing to bring about justice. But (isn't there always a but?) my faith journey and search for meaning was not filled with clarity nor had it gone in a straight line for answers. My spiritual growth was on a comfortable plateau. 

Here's the personal part. When I was in my early forties, our eldest son died suddenly of unexplained health issues related to asthma. My most comforting experience happened at the evening visitation event. As one of my close friends approached me in tears, I had a very real sense of God's love. It literally overtook me. I felt a calm, peaceful yet strengthening presence that even today I call God's divine touch. Beyond that I went through the classic stages of grief, except I got stuck in the anger stage for almost 10 years. My excuse for actually leaving the church was that I needed to keep our family from splintering apart. We put our collective energy into literally building a beach house on weekends. 

During my search for the meaning of Dean's death, I was blessed to have wonderful pastoral support and connections to church friends. One pastor introduced me to the power of small groups intentionally seeking growth in spiritual disciplines together. My "Companions in Christ" group continues to be a strong source of God's enduring love and direction in my life.

As I returned to church, my search for meaning came to be the need to learn to listen, hence meditation took on greater importance. Spiritual practices of prayer, studying God's word and voices of believers' interpreting its meaning for today's world, being in a community of faith, and being open to the challenge of how to work for justice for all became very important in my daily living. This to me is spirituality that is up close and personal. The current pandemic shines a bright light on how our society and its structures do not work for those on the fringes. I believe we must work to change the systems that benefit only the privileged, not a popular stance. 

Who am I? Why am I here? These are still questions for which I am seeking answers. My spirituality and faith will not let me ignore others and their needs while facing the question of how I contribute to society's grip on the status quo. I continue to wrestle with how some answers raise more questions. 

Gerry Ritter

A lifelong resident of North Carolina, Gerry Ritter is a retired educator and school administrator.

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