By Lt. Col. David Bowerman, Chaplain, U.S. Army Public Health CommandJune 1, 2015
For Soldiers, taking the Army physical fitness test twice a year is a good indicator of changes in physical fitness--the number of sit-ups and pushups performed and the two-mile run time can increase or decrease, as well as weight. These things can show progress or the need for improvement. Physical fitness is important for accomplishing the mission and staying healthy. Whether you are a Soldier or Department of Army civilian, family member or retiree, taking stock of your health will reap great benefits. What about your spiritual fitness?
Spirituality has to do with a person's world view, sense of morality and ethics and sense of meaning. It is easy to confuse spirituality with religious practice; in fact, even atheists and agnostics can be spiritual. Buddhists are not necessarily theists, but few would argue that they are not spiritual.
Army Regulation, 600-63, Army Health Promotion, puts it this way: "A spiritually fit person recognizes there are multiple dimensions that make up a human being and seeks to develop the total person concept. This includes enhancing spiritual fitness through reflection and practice of a lifestyle based on personal qualities needed to sustain one during times of stress, hardship and tragedy."
Spirituality is not static; it changes and (hopefully) deepens and matures as we get older. In 1981, Dr. James W. Fowler, a developmental psychologist at Emory University and United Methodist Minister, published "Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning." In this book, Fowler proposed that people go through phases in their spiritual development--the faith of a child is different from the faith of an adult, for instance. During the course of his research, Dr. Fowler interviewed Jews, Catholics, Protestants, agnostics and atheists. He suggested that there are six stages of faith, starting with zero (in infancy). According to Dr. Fowler, very few people achieve the highest level, stage six, but he suggests that individuals such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi might be examples of those who do. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. But we do not have to stay at the same stage through life. Spiritual growth will be different for each person--what works for one person may not work for another--but activities such as belonging to a worship community, prayer and meditation, and deliberate study of any sacred texts from your own tradition can help contribute to growth. Many people also express their spirituality through volunteerism.
You might get an idea of your own level of spiritual fitness from a source such as the "Spiritual Dimension" on the Global Assessment Tool, or GAT. Soldiers have to take the GAT each year. But there are many ways to gauge your spiritual resilience. The "Spiritual Fitness Inventory" Technical Guide 360 available from the U.S. Army Public Health Command Spiritual Health website is another tool. Whenever you step on the scale or monitor your exercise, you are taking stock of your health. Shouldn't your spiritual health be just as important?