In previous postings, I've shared how important it is that people feel their spiritual needs are being met within their faith communities, and the connection between deep relationships and spiritual needs. This Lenten season seems a good time for us to reflect on this from a personal perspective and to hear what others are thinking.
How would you describe your spiritual needs? I asked this question at the beginning of the Spiritual Needs Survey, not really knowing what to expect. I suspected that many of the respondents would simply skip the question, not knowing where or how to begin to describe something so deeply personal and sacred. Yet hundreds of people have answered the question. In many ways, their responses resonate with my own spiritual yearnings, and give voice to the infinite longing we each have to know God's presence, allow it to fill our hearts, shape our lives, and make a difference in the way we live, day-to-day, week-to-week, Sunday-to-the rest of life. Hear what a few respondents have said:
"I feel a need for "more" and I'm not sure what the "More" is..." (Female, 36-50)
"A deep sense of thirsting for Jesus." (Male, 51-65)
"I would like ways to discuss spiritual development as a young adult moving into my 30's and how to have a stronger relationship with God in today's society and fast-paced living." (Female, 26-35)
"I hunger for a body of Christ committed to living the Gospel in all that we do. A community where we can gather and nourish one another intellectually, spiritually, and lovingly. A community that is then sent forth into the world like the disciples to proclaim a Gospel of peace and justice for all, starting with the poor, marginalized, and oppressed." (Male, 18-25)
This one seems to sum up the sentiments of many who have responded:
"Intimate prayer, intentional community, loving body of believers, ability to ask big, deep questions." (Female, 18-25)
What are your spiritual needs? How are your spiritual needs met? I have given these questions much thought in the past five years, particularly after reading responses such as the ones above. It seems to me that as pastoral leaders, we sometimes forget that many/most/all of the people whom we encounter in our parishes experience spiritual longing. Perhaps we know this in our hearts, yet in the daily demands of ministry, we lose sight of this reality. The responsibility to teach, prepare people for sacraments, respond to their pastoral needs and encourage them to offer service to others is often our focus, and rightfully so. Yet, without attending to these deeper spiritual yearnings, all of the other things we do will fall flat.
What would happen if our parishes truly became communities of disciples in which we join with others in deep relationship, rooted in faith? What would be the impact of friendships in which the questions, yearning, and longing for "More" is acknowledged and through which we become more attentive to the always-present, abundant love of God for us and for all? Lives would be changed, no doubt. The mission of Jesus Christ would be carried out in new ways. As a young man responded on the survey, each of us would acquire "an everyday willingness and sacrifice to do what God needs me to do."