With 17 years serving as a chaplain in the US Air Force, Rudy Olivo has had the privilege of working alongside healthcare professionals to provide compassionate, spiritual guidance in the most delicate of circumstances. Throughout his tenure, he offered support not only to patients, but to the caregivers he served alongside, as well. The following is based on the common spiritual struggles and needs he helped them navigate.
Religion. Is it good or bad? How about spirituality? Is it a positive thing or a negative one? Could it be neutral? Finally, how do these concepts of spirituality and religion interact? The answers to all of these questions vary depending on who you ask. No definitive answer to these questions will be given in this article; the aim is simply to develop a working understanding of these concepts so as to facilitate a deeper investigation and aid in the pursuit of personal wellbeing.
Dr. Ann Graber, an instructor of Franklian psychology and respected academic in this field, has dedicated much of her life to parsing out the deeply interwoven meanings of these terms. She describes religion “as a path to God the Source of Being” and spirituality “as the essential human endowment in which direct experience of God can take place.”¹ In my experience as a Chaplain working in a variety of settings, I’ve asked people to describe their understanding of these two terms. Oftentimes, their operating definitions are quite similar to Dr. Graber’s, varying just slightly. When referring to religion, people frequently regard this as the institutional structures that exist solely for the end Dr. Graber describes above: a formalized path by which humans understand life’s big questions. Spirituality, on the other hand, has commonly been described to me as the individual’s personal convictions regarding the meaning of life, particularly their own, and do not necessarily incorporate the concept of a relationship with a higher being such as Dr. Graber describes.
As you contemplate these notions of religion and spirituality, I’m curious, how would you define them yourself? Are you religious? Spiritual? Both? Regardless of how you feel about these terms, let me encourage (perhaps even challenge?) you to ask yourself one question, one that must not be ignored by the spiritual or the religious: what is a life well-lived?
Like anything else in life, if we don’t have a plan for where we’re going, we will surely be lost. This premise holds true as you budget your checkbook, drive to a family member’s home, or seek higher education in pursuit of career goals. Likewise, this same principle applies to your personal growth. Very few of us ever develop a fully defined vision of what a well-lived life means for ourselves, but that’s ok because the vision is not the goal — a well-lived life is. Remember, that vision is yours and yours alone to define as often and as much as you’d like. While many of us may never get the full picture entirely in focus, unpacking even one part of it will surely make tomorrow better.
If you have interest in this but don’t know where to begin, reach out to me here at Cabana. It would be an honor to partner with you in this endeavor.
: Graber, A. (2009). The Journey Home: Preparing for Life’s Ultimate Adventure, p. 19 Birmingham, AL: LogoLife Press.