Spirituality, Connectedness & Ultimate Concern
Walker, Charles A. PhD, Rnc, Journal of Theory Construction and Testing
The guest editor for this issue JTCT(Vol. 10, No. 2) is Dr. Jennifer Gray. Associate Dean of doctoral programs and George W. and Hazel M. Jay Professor of Nursing at The University of Texas (Arlington) School of Nursing, Dr. Gray is a recognized expert on spirituality among women with HIV infection. Jennifer (Dr. Gray) and I have been friends and colleagues since the mid-'80s. Although our academic careers and scholarly interests moved us in different directions, we now hold faculty appointments at universities (hers public, mine private) within 20 miles of each other.
Early in our careers, we co-presented a paper at an educators' conference. Many aspects of that conference and presentation are still vivid in my memory. We attended the conference with young children and spouses in tow. I drank three cups of caffeinated coffee at breakfast and finished my portion of the presentation in record time. We cleverly bantered back and forth - well, Jennifer was clever and engaging; I was stiff and boring, but the contrast made for great theatre. I admired Jennifer's public speaking skill, and she taught me how to use personal anecdotes and self-deprecating humor to "win" an audience. Experiences like this one connect us. Rhythms of relatedness humbly remind us of our connections to the people, places, activities, and values that we cherish, and knowing those things that we cherish gets us in touch with our spiritual selves.
Influential 20th century theologian, Paul Tillich coined the term "ultimate concern" to capture the notion of faith or spiritual self-awareness. Tillich argues that by answering the question, "What is my ultimate concern?'', we clarify our spiritual priorities, subjecting them to critical inspection and reevaluation. Through his monumental Systematic Theology, collection of sermons, and other writings, Tillich (1948, 1963, 2003, 2005) presents a fresh perspective on faith, spirituality, and diverse religious traditions. No philosopher or theologian probes the meaning of words and symbols more than Tillich, but abstractions are not his primary interests. He does not base his theology on the question of whether God exists, which he believes is a question that should not be asked, but which marks the foundation for most theological systems. Instead, Tillich begins with a statement of the human predicament. In that sense he is an existentialist. To Tillich, the human condition is situated in our profound alienation from one another, from God, from formerly supportive institutions (e.g., the Church), and from ourselves. Estrangement creates the fundamental tension in which we live.
Tillich's idea of ultimate concern is represented in two ways: being grasped by a concern for the ultimate, however we choose to define it, and taking something in our lives with ultimate seriousness. For Tillich the two meanings are interrelated. When you find what it is that a person takes seriously, then and there you may find that the person is grasped by it. Even a cynic takes cynicism with ultimate seriousness. The same might be said of materialists, communists, or atheists. This attitude of seriousness is seldom produced by an active, reflective, voluntary process; rather, it comes to us early and incrementally in our lives, and it resists overthrow by passion or logic. …