Spirituality is, in essence, what gives our lives meaning. There’s often a bit of confusion about the term – it gets confused with ‘spiritualism’ and is often used interchangeably with ‘religion’.

Spirituality is connected to life’s big mysteries… nature, the power of creation, the human condition. Spiritual experiences can come from walking in the woods, reflective time by the sea, breathing in cold crisp air, connecting with a loved one. In all cultures, sacred stories, proverbs and rituals around death exist have a spiritual significance that helps us understand life and face death.

There is a powerful connection between spirtuality and life and death matters. The profound feelings that can accompany dying and bereavement often work on a different plane to day-to-day emotions. We may need spiritual solace as well as emotional and physical kindness.

Recognition of these spiritual needs are increasingly important in today’s world. Religion and authority don’t hold the place they used to. A survey from the Christian charity Tearfund showed that out of 7,000 adults throughout the UK, only 15% attended a Christian church at least once a month, with a further 10% attending somewhere between once a month and once a year. Christian Research, the statistical arm of the Bible Society, claim that by 2050 Sunday church attendance will fall below 88,000, compared with ten times that now.

Research by the University of Manchester shows that young people are less religious than older people and show no signs of becoming more religious as they grow older. If this trend continues it’s likely that, over the next few decades, non-religious funerals will become more common than religious ones.

Our section on Death Rituals is peppered with a light sprinkling of some aspects of different belief systems and their death practices. It’s all way too big to go into in these pages.

Spiritual care research priorities

Spiritual care is a critical part of care at the end of life. To date it has been neglected in research. Now a European taskforce is conducting an online survey of among professionals to identify priorities that will inform future research and service planning. Researchers, palliative care workers were invited to complete a survey in May 2012.
The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS) have published rich information on the topic of spirituality.We particularly like their 5 definitions – directly reproduced below:Five ways of thinking about spirituality include:

  1. Spirituality as part of a religious belief: A particular spirituality is a specific system, or schema of beliefs, virtues, ideals and principles which form a particular way to approach God, and therefore, all life in general (Franciscan spirituality).
  2. Spirituality as a secular concept: Spiritualties are those ideas, practices and commitments that nurture, sustain and shape the fabric of human lives, whether as individuals or communities (King, 2011: p21).
  3. Spirituality as a metaphor for absence: Spirituality in all of its diverse forms and meanings names particular inadequacies that have been perceived or sensed within health care and it is these inadequacies that people wish to resist. By raising the importance of meaning, purpose, hope, love, God or relatedness issues that often come to prominence during the experience of being ill, the language of spirituality points towards the gap between experience and current practices and becomes a point of resistance and protest against the absence of some kinds of care (Swinton and Pattison, 2010: p232).
  4. Spirituality as a search for meaning with or without God: Spirituality recognises the human need for ultimate meaning in life, whether this is fulfilled through a relationship with God or some sense of another, or whether some other sense of meaning becomes the guiding force within the individual’s life. Human spirituality can also involve relationships with other people.
  5. ‘Spirituality encompasses wide ranging attitudes and practices which focus on the search for meaning in human lives, particularly in terms of relationships, values and the arts. It is concerned with quality of life, especially in areas that have not been closed off by technology and science. Spirituality may, or may not, be open to ideas of transcendence and to the possibility of the divine’ (Ferguson, 2011: xxix)
  6. The contemporary use of the word ‘spirituality’: Spirituality refers to the deepest values and meanings by which people seek to live… it implies some kind of vision of the human spirit and of what will assist it to achieve full potential (Sheldrake, 2007: p2).

See their full discussion here.

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