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What does it mean to be spiritual?

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. – Wingman Hall at the I.G Brown Training and Education Center was constructed more than a decade ago, but it went without an official name until June 2013. The TEC’s Professional Continuing Education Division makes good use of the space as well as the 134th Air Refueling Wing and base family support services. Base personnel also use the building for weekly spiritual services and study. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Kurt Skoglund/Released)

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. – Wingman Hall at the I.G Brown Training and Education Center holds weekly spiritual services and study with Chaplain Lt. Col. Ira Campbell. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Kurt Skoglund/Released)

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. -- When talking about spirituality and what it means to him, Chaplain Lt. Col. Ira S. Campbell here at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center is reminded of his time serving in Germany at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where he met with wounded U.S. Soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq.

During group sessions, he would typically ask Soldiers to read and respond to the famous short story "The Flyer and the Catcher."

The story, written by Henri Nouwen, describes an acrobatic flyer at a circus swinging away from the pedestal board and somersaulting through the air toward the catcher, in front of a cheering crowd. After tumbling through the air, the flyer must do one thing: stretch out his arms and hands and wait to be safely caught.

Campbell would then ask participants to explain what the story meant to them. The most common response he received was "trust." But one wounded soldier in particular had a different answer.

Instead of describing the acrobats' completed act, or how it required trust, the Soldier took note of the audience clapping and cheering for the performers, without truly understanding what the flyer and catcher were experiencing during their feat.

"The Soldier made the connection to how Soldiers are welcomed when they return home from war, and how cheering crowds of civilian supporters don't truly understand what these service men and women are going through," Campbell said. "I was amazed at how a simple story connected so differently with different people, and that to me illustrates what spirituality is all about: making connections with one another through deep reflection on how we all see the world, and unifying those visions into a mutual understanding of one another."

The Spiritual Pillar

Campbell's goal as TEC's chaplain has been to emphasize the value of the spiritual pillar, which he feels is often the most overlooked. He believes the spiritual pillar is misunderstood; however, partly because people assume spirituality relates only to people who associate themselves with a specific religious denomination.

For Campbell, it means much more than that.

To him, spirituality means giving yourself space for quiet reflection. It means participating in your community, involving yourself in the lives of others and strengthening your relationships. It requires intentionally making the effort to find meaning in life and focusing on thoughts that lead to action, instead of despair. It encourages you to undertake new challenges with confidence, embrace the feeling of awe, and learn to laugh.

"Everyone is a house with four rooms: physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person," said Campbell, echoing an Indian proverb.

(This feature was provided, courtesy of the Ready54 office, a joint resiliency resource for Air and Army National Guard members from the Air National Guard Safety Directorate.)