Spirituality — a focus on the human spirit and soul — means something to all types of people across all types of religious beliefs. The 30 people represented below are just a few of many who have, over the centuries, coined some of the greatest spiritual quotes.
“What you are is God’s gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.”
Hans Urs von Balthasar
This great quote about spirituality comes from a prayer written by Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Catholic priest and theologian from Switzerland. He wrote dozens of works concerning theology, and was even chosen to become a Cardinal, but died before the ceremony could take place. At his funeral, his friend Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, referred to Balthasar as “perhaps the most cultured man of our time.”
“The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.”
This is one of the more memorable lines in the book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, by bestselling author Rob Bell. Bell is an author, speaker, and founder and former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church. He’s made a name for himself writing Christian books that are often deemed controversial by many of Christianity’s leading figures. Says Bell, “I affirm the truth anywhere in any religious system, in any worldview. If it’s true, it belongs to God.” But however controversial his views and books, Bell continues to write bestsellers and was even named in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
“You need tremendous spirituality to stop yourself falling into the abyss.”
This great quotation about spirituality may mean more once you hear that Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian-French politician, was kidnapped in 2002 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. She was campaigning for the Colombian presidency at the time, and spent six and a half years in captivity before being rescued by Colombian security forces in 2008. Since that harrowing experience, Betancourt has continued her work as an anti-corruption specialist and speaker. She’s won a number of international awards including France’s prestigious Légion d’honneur and the Concord Prince of Asturias Award.
“The spiritual quest is not some added benefit to our life, something you embark on if you have the time and inclination. We are spiritual beings on an earthly journey. Our spirituality makes up our beingness.”
Before his death in May 2016, John Bradshaw was one of the best known names in the self-help movement. Bradshaw hosted various PBS programs on topics such as spirituality, addiction and recovery, and codependency, and often spoke from the perspective of a theologian. He contributed to the mainstream acceptance of such ideas as the “wounded inner child” and “dysfunctional family,” ideas he wrote and spoke about extensively as an educator, counselor, author, and motivational speaker.
“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.”
Though he died in 1987, Joseph Campbell remains an influential figure for many people, especially creative types. He was a mythologist who focused on various aspects of the human experience. His most famous book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces summarized the journey of the archetypal hero found in mythology and literature throughout the ages. Much of Campbell’s work, including the aforementioned quote, followed his own personal mantra of “Follow your bliss.”
“Spirituality is meant to take us beyond our tribal identity into a domain of awareness that is more universal.”
Deepak Chopra is one of the best-known names in the New Age movement. As a public speaker, advocate for alternative medicine, and author, Chopra champions the idea that human beings can attain “perfect health” — that is, a condition “that is free from disease, that never feels pain” and “that cannot age or die.” Though he has been repeatedly criticized by scientists and medical professionals, Chopra has authored more than 80 books, 21 of which have been New York Times bestsellers.
“Maintaining spirituality and humanism are the keys to success. It’s a balance.”
If you practice yoga, you may recognize Bikram Choudhury as the founder of Bikram Yoga, a popular form of hot yoga. Choudhury was inspired to create the 26-posture yoga series after he was involved in a crippling weightlifting accident that left doctors telling him he would likely never walk again. According to Choudhury, yoga helped him to fully recover within six months.
“In order to experience everyday spirituality, we need to remember that we are spiritual beings spending some time in a human body.”
Barbara de Angelis
As president of Shakti Communications, Inc., Barbara de Angelis is a well-known relationship consultant, speaker, television personality, and author. She has written 14 bestselling books, including Are You the One for Me?, How to Make Love All the Time, and Secrets About Men Every Woman Should Know.
“Humor is a part of spirituality.”
Known for her doe-eyed expressions and deadpan humor, actress Zooey Deschanel is one of the most successful actresses in comedy. She’s appeared in such beloved films as Elf, (500) Days of Summer, and Bridge to Terabithia, and starred in the hit television show New Girl for its six-season run. Deschanel is also part of the musical group She & Him.
“Spirituality lies in what you do and how you do it, and not what result you get.”
Kapil Dev is the Indian cricketer who was named Cricketer of the Century in 2002. After leading the Indian cricket team to victory in the 1983 Cricket World Cup, Dev spent a season coaching his home country’s national team. Upon his retirement in 1994, Dev held the world record for the most number of wickets taken in Test cricket (though this record was broken in 2000). He was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame in 2010.
“I think we have to be careful about what we label as a prerequisite for spirituality. I don’t think you have to know a lot to have a spiritual life, but knowing gives life richness.”
American actress Olympia Dukakis has enjoyed a long career in film and theater. The daughter of Greek immigrants to the United States, Dukakis began her career on stage, and won a Best Actress Obie Award in 1963 for her role in the off-Broadway show Man Equals Man. When she transitioned to film work, Dukakis received critical acclaim for her many roles. She is perhaps best known for her performance in Moonstruck, for which she received nominations at the Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTA Awards.
“To me, religion is an agreement between a group of people about what God is. Spirituality is a one-on-one relationship.”
Steve Earle certainly has a way with words. He’s a singer-songwriter and record producer in the rock, country, and folk genres, and his songs have been recorded by such massive names as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Patty Loveless, Shawn Colvin, and Emmylou Harris, to name a few. Earle has released 16 of his own albums since 1986, and has won three Grammy awards.
“From my perspective, I absolutely believe in a greater spiritual power, far greater than I am, from which I have derived strength in moments of sadness or fear. That’s what I believe, and it was very, very strong in the forest.”
Jane Goodall is a primatologist and anthropologist, and is thought to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees. Much of her knowledge stems from having spent 55 years interacting with wild chimpanzees in Tanzania, an experience which resonated with her deeply, as the above quotation attests. Since leaving the jungle, Goodall has founded the Jane Goodall Institute, which contributes extensively to various conservation efforts and animal welfare issues.
“Spirituality is something that makes you who you are on and off the field. It’s something you try and live by. The way you play is one thing, but the way you act is a little different. You’re just trying to be a good person, the best you can be, on and off the field.”
A role model for millions, Bryce Harper is a professional baseball player currently with the Washington Nationals. Before he was signed to the major leagues, Harper won the 2010 Golden Spikes Award, a prestigious award given to the best amateur baseball player. In 2012, his first year in the MLB, he became the youngest player ever chosen to be a part of the All-Star Team. Since then, Harper has continued to rack up the accomplishments. In 2015, he tied for the National League lead in home runs hit, the same year he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“We can no more do without spirituality than we can do without food, shelter, or clothing.”
This famous spirituality quotation was coined by Ernest Holmes, who founded the spiritual movement known as Religious Science. Born in 1887, Holmes spent much of his career writing about spiritual philosophy. He authored the book The Science of Mind and also founded Science of Mind magazine.
“Religion has nothing to do with spirituality.”
Marianne Jean-Baptiste is an English actress who was born in London to Caribbean parents. She is perhaps best known for playing Hortense Cumberbatch in 1996’s Secrets & lies, for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. In addition to acting, Jean-Baptiste has also found success as a singer-songwriter, director, and composer.
“Spirituality does two things for you. One, you are forced to become more selfless; two, you trust to providence. The opposite of a spiritual man is a materialist. If I was a materialist, I would be making lots of money doing endorsements, doing cricket commentary. I have no interest in that.”
Imran Khan became a well known name as a first-class cricketer for first Oxford and later the Worcestershire Cricket Club. Born in Pakistan, Khan began representing the Pakistani national cricket team in 1976. He continued to represent his country until 1992, the year he helped them win the Cricket World Cup. When his cricket career ended, Khan became a philanthropist and politician. He serves as a member of the Pakistan National Assembly. Khan is also the leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaf, a Centrist political party that he founded.
“We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen.”
Thomas Merton wore a number of hats throughout his life: Trappist monk, theologian, mystic, poet, and social activist. He authored more than 70 books on topics dealing with spirituality and social justice, and his most famous book, The Seven Storey Mountain, was named by National Review as one of the 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century. Merton initiated spiritual dialogue with many important figures of other religions, including the Dalai Lama, and many of the quotations he coined were inspired by his fascination with Zen Buddhism and Taoism.
“A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your own weakness.”
Mother Teresa (born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu) knew a little bit about sacrifice and what it means to “give yourself fully to God.” Born in what is now the small country of Macedonia, she spent her childhood fascinated by stories of saints and missionaries. At age 18, she left home with the aim of becoming a nun and missionary, first in Ireland, then in India. For decades, Mother Teresa, or Saint Teresa of Calcutta as she’s known in the Catholic Church, served the population of Calcutta. She survived wars and skirmishes, the Bengal famine of 1943, and countless threats against herself and her work offering “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”
“If you look a little deeper into the human mind, you shall discover that Holiness and Humanism are simply two vibrant sides of the same coin.”
Born in Calcutta, India, Abhijit Naskar is a neuroscientist and bestselling author. In every aspect of his work, Naskar remains a tireless advocate of mental wellness and the ways in which basic awareness of the brain can improve our personal lives and lead to global harmony. Though spiritual, Naskar states, “I am a Christian to the Christian, a Jew to the Jew, a Muslim to the Muslim, a Hindu to the Hindu, and an Atheist to the Atheist. There is nothing wrong or unscientific or primitive about being a religious person.”
“Spirituality is not adopting more beliefs and assumptions, but uncovering the best in you.”
This great spiritual quotation comes from Amit Ray’s book Beautify Your Breath, Beautify Your Life. Born in India, Ray is an enlightened spiritual master in the Himalayan Yoga and Vipassana traditions. After a series of spiritual awakenings, he began writing on the topics of spirituality and meditation, and has authored several books. In addition to his spiritual work, Ray holds a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence and computational neuroscience. He’s spent many years researching the nature of consciousness.
“Faith does not need to push the river because faith is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing. We are in it.”
Fr. Richard Rohr
Fr. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar, inspirational speaker, and author. The long list of books Rohr has authored includes Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, and Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. Rohr’s speeches and writings are rooted in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy. They are often aimed at the socially marginalized and advocate contemplation and radical compassion.
“When spirituality is the basis of your life, it gives you the strength, wisdom, and courage to surmount the many storms of life that could destroy a weaker person who doesn’t have this foundation.”
Though he was born into a wealthy American family as Richard Slavin, Radhanath Swami knew early on that a life of materialism wasn’t for him. He’s spent more than 40 years as an author, activist, and community builder in India (though he often travels throughout Europe and the U.S.). Radhanath Swami has worked as a spiritual teacher and Bhakti Yoga practitioner. He helped found a hospital in Mumbai, organized a mid-day meal program that benefits 1.2 million children, and has written a number of books.
“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”
Carl Sagan was a well-known astronomer, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, cosmologist, and even science-fiction author. He wrote the novel Contact which became a hit movie. So perhaps it is surprising that such an accomplished scientist would coin such a famous quotation about spirituality. Although it wouldn’t necessarily be accurate to say that Sagan wholeheartedly accepted the idea of the existence of a god, he repeatedly insisted that he was not an atheist either.
As he wrote in a letter to Robert Pope in 1996, “I am not an atheist. An atheist is someone who has compelling evidence that there is no Judeo-Christian-Islamic God. I am not that wise, but neither do I consider there to be anything approaching adequate evidence for such a god.” Sagan’s great quote about spirituality comes from his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. He wrote in an attempt to explain the scientific method and encourage critical thinking.
“Man learns through experience, and the spiritual path is full of different kinds of experiences. He will encounter many difficulties and obstacles, and they are the very experiences he needs to encourage and complete the cleansing process.”
Sai Baba of Shirdi
Though he died in 1918, Sai Baba of Shirdi is still revered by both Muslims and Hindus, who regard him as both a saint and an avatar of Lord Shiva. Sai Baba stressed in his preachings the importance of self realization, moral love, forgiveness, inner peace, and helping others, among other things. Interestingly, his teachings combine elements of both Islam and Hinduism, and he practiced both Muslim and Hindu rituals.
“Love in its essence is spiritual fire.”
Seneca the Younger
Statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca, better known as Seneca the Younger or even just Seneca, was a well known philosopher and dramatist in ancient Rome. Much of his philosophy followed the teachings of the Stoics. The spirituality he refers to in the above quote referred to his “religion” of Western Philosophy, which was driven by philosophia, or literally, “the love of wisdom.” Seneca was forced to commit suicide. He allegedly was complicit in a conspiracy to assassinate the cruel Roman emperor, Nero, who was a former student of Seneca.
“True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that — it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.”
No list of great spirituality quotes is complete without a quotation by Charles Spurgeon. Nicknamed the “Prince of Preachers,” Spurgeon was a proud Baptist, though his spiritual teachings and writings have influenced Christians of a various denominations. Born in 1834, Spurgeon was a pastor at New Park Street Chapel in London for 38 years. During this time he wrote hundreds of sermons, commentaries, devotionals, poems, hymns, magazine articles, and his autobiography.
“That is the real spiritual awakening, when something emerges from within you that is deeper than who you thought you were. So, the person is still there, but one could almost say that something more powerful shines through the person.”
Though he’s not associated with any particular religion, author Eckhart Tolle has been called the “most popular spiritual author in the United States.” Indeed, his two most famous books — The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose — have each sold upwards of 5 million copies. They’ve inspired popular live webinar series, and are favorites of Oprah Winfrey. Tolle has discussed being widely influenced by Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, and Christianity. He often references texts like the Tao Te Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, various Hindu and Buddhist scriptures, and the Bible.
“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”
During his lifetime, British philosopher Alan Watts became well known as an interpreter and advocate of Eastern philosophy. Largely credited with popularizing Eastern philosophy in the West, Watts spent much of his life living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He authored more than 25 books and articles about the comparing Eastern and Western religions. In Psychotherapy East and West he defended his idea that Buddhism is more psychotherapy than religion. He considered The Joyous Cosmology; Nature, Man and Women to be his best book. The Way of Zen was perhaps the first bestselling book on the topic of Buddhism.
“Spirituality is not a formula; it is not a test. It is a relationship. Spirituality is not about competency; it is about intimacy. Spirituality is not about perfection; it is about connection. The way of the spiritual life begins where we are now in the mess of our lives.”
Mike Yaconelli was a well-respected church leader, theologian, and writer who was killed in an automobile accident in 2003. Yaconelli co-founded Youth Specialties, an organization that trained and inspired Christian youth leaders, and worked as a pastor at a small church in Yreka, California. He founded the satirical magazine “The Wittenburg Door,” and wrote a number of books aimed at youth leaders.