The Widow’s Mite: Turning a Good Practice into a Spiritual Practice

What makes a good practice a spiritual practice? Is there a difference? Is the practice of doing good things for a charitable, non-religious organization the same as doing a spiritual practice? Conversely, can the practice doing good work for a church always be called a spiritual practice?

The answer lies not necessarily in the work itself but in the intention and integrity of the individual involved—and in the deepening way that person is changed by the practice. For some people, volunteering for the Rotary Club can be a spiritual practice. For others, donating food to the poor in a church drive can be no more than business transaction: giving something to get something in return.

True spirituality has the characteristics of being driven by a conscious intention, a shining integrity that encompasses the whole person with an ever deepening quality of bringing that person closer to God, other people, and nature itself.  If a person’s good works includes these things; it is definitely a spiritual practice.

A Spiritual Practice Starts with Intention

Spirituality starts with clear-eyed intention that asks questions like, “What am I doing, why am I doing it and for whom am I doing it?”

If the answer involves, “Me, me and me,” a good practice may be nothing more than making myself look good before the world. The practice may be a way of telling the world how rich or powerful I am. It may be a way to smooth relations so that I can gain something in the future. Or it may simply be “good for business.”

However, if the answer involves something like, “I don’t necessarily want to do this but I feel called to do it,” or “This is something that needs to happen to make the world a better place,” probably the answer is spiritually driven.

A Spiritual Practice Shines with Integrity

A true spiritual practice involves the whole person. It is a practice that asks the person not only go to the strong and sure places inside but also to go to the dark and hidden places: to see what’s there, make peace with it, and use this greater understanding to help others. Nothing is hidden or covered up. All is valued as part of an integrated whole. This why a good spiritual practice is one that gently calls us out of our comfort zone—not one that keeps us there.  It asks us to peek at the ultimate truth of vulnerability and powerless; and not blink.

A Spiritual Practice Transforms Us

The practice of repeatedly moving out of our comfort zone enlarges our spirits to the point it literally transforms us and our relationships. We are no longer the fear-driven people we were before. Instead of hiding and withdrawing; we are opening and deepening our relationships with God and the world. If need be, we are willing to give everything to help the world, like the widow who gave all she had, to do something that is important. It is not our power at work; but a spiritual power that speaks volumes.

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Some Indicators of Genuine Spirituality

These days, there is a lot of talk in the media about lies, falsehoods, sham investigations, fake news and phony Christianity. It’s almost as if the nation is undergoing a national dialogue to determine what is true and not true—what is integral to being an American. Organized religion itself is being challenged because of hypocrisy or a failure in moral leadership. More and more people are seeing a lack of spirituality in Christianity, often referring to an adage that religion is about authority and spirituality is about integrity. Perhaps in organized religion people see a lot of emphasis put on following rules or scripture but a lot less on practices that lead to a life of integrity. Again, there seems to a cry for something genuine, something true; not just in the faith and teachings but also in the living out of those faiths and beliefs. There is a call for genuine spirituality that begs the question, “What is genuine spirituality?” Spirituality, like good food, certainly has its indicators. If spirituality is about integrity, let’s look at the word integrity. The word integrity is etymologically related to the word integration and refers to the quality of wholeness. (See https://www.quora.com/Are-the-words-integral-and-integrity-related.) The key to understanding integrity and its role in spirituality is the idea of integration. Indeed, one of the indicators of genuine spirituality is the ability to integrate the profound negatives of life such as suffering, evil and ignorance with the deepest positives of life such as joy, love and enlightenment. This ability comes from intimately knowing through personal experience the highs and lows of life. Hence, another old adage: “Religion is for those who believe in heaven and hell; spirituality is for those that have been there.” Another indicator of genuine spirituality is the ability to tell one’s whole story; the good and the bad–and own it without glossing over the bad or bragging about the good. The telling of the story frees the storyteller from the grips of the negative of that story and challenges that person to put suffering into some sort of meaningful context. In other words, telling one’s story integrates the whole of his or her experience, making the storyteller whole. In spirituality, this integration literally takes in the whole of the person: body, mind and spirit. A spiritual person is deeply tuned into the messages of his or her body, emotions and soul. Likewise, the spiritual person is empathetic and tuned into these kinds of messages from other people, nature and the spiritual world. If you want to be spiritual, be integrated, be integral and you will not lack integrity.