Spiritual Formation Across the Lifespan

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Hope Haslam Straughan Within the social work profession, there is a growing movement affirming that spirituality and religious beliefs are integral to the nature of the person and have a vital influence on human behavior (Hugen, 1998). Canda (1988) identifies spirituality as a basic aspect of human experience, both within and outside the context of religious institutions. If a social worker is going to approach a person in a holistic manner, he or she must be willing to consider each person as a wondrous compilation of bio-psycho-social-spiritual elements. In this way, workers will have an extremely broad base from which to approach the strength and resiliency in the people with whom they interact. Spiritual development, a component of this broad understanding of a person, seems to occur both in a measurable, outward, predictable manner, as well as in a less tangible, personal journey. These complex and intertwined spiritual growth markers will be explored within this chapter, primarily from a Christian point of view. Smith (1997-1998) claims that Christians are ‘meaning makers,’ taking “the raw material of lived experience—the gladness and the sorrows—and trying to seek the deeper meaning, see the larger picture, understand the levels and layers of life in all its fullness and intensity. We live, and then in faith we try to discover meaning” (p. 2). Spiritual deepening, or development then, is about becoming more consciously aware—being attentive, staying alert, and paying attention to life as we seek meaning. The Council on Social Work Education (2000) has recently added the concept of spirituality to the required list to be addressed within the curriculum of accredited schools of social work. There are many important ways in which to incorporate this information in the overall social work curriculum. For instance, the role of religious institutions in society can be investigated, while considering the impact of their presence, and the potential natural support networks such entities might lend for some persons. In addition, techniques utilized by social workers that value a variety of possible religious experiences or spiritual beliefs might be explored in a practice course. One aspect of the growing self-awareness of social work students might be focused on their personal faith or spiritual experiences, including awareness of their own beliefs, and the 145


Hope Haslam Straughan

impact of these on the people and their environments with which students will interact. Finally, one might argue that spiritual development content must be included in a course in which community is considered, as many religious traditions feature a strong cultural and communal identity and experience. Incorporating spirituality within the Human Behavior and Social Environment life span content is a foundational attempt to honor holistic personal development. One can consider the development of an individual’s spirituality from gestation through the years of life to death, while considering the socioeconomic, political, racial, ethnic, and greater societal influences impacting a person’s faith journey. This approach is based on a clear assumption that an individual’s spiritual capacity is not stagnant, but indeed develops, changes, and potentially increases. This type of thinking immediately causes us to consider whether spiritual information is best presented utilizing a traditional stage-based theoretical approach, or if the concepts lend themselves to a more fluid consideration in which particular themes are revisited throughout life. James Fowler (1981) has drawn from a deep psychological understanding of human development and crafted a model of spiritual development containing a pre-stage, and six subsequent stages of faith, which holds true to many of the assumptions of the traditional stage-models. Joan Borysenko (1996) and others have proposed more fluid approaches to spiritual development...
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