I ask questions because I am curious and because I care. I am fascinated with spiritual journeys. Each one is a reminder of how powerful, personal and unique God is. Every faith story has the potential to be an inspiration and an encounter with God through another person.
For much of recent history there were three things people were discouraged from discussing at the dinner table (or most other places for that matter): sex, religion and politics. And much like the family practice of dinner gathered around a table, things have changed.
One phrase in particular seems to be gaining traction. As fresh discussions sprout up through the cracks of the paved-over world of faith expression more and more is heard the disclaimer: “I’m spiritual, not religious.” The version I often hear is: “Oh, you’re a priest? Well.. I’m spiritual, not religious.” Many times when I hear that I can’t help but feel like the person is basically saying, “I don’t know where this conversation is going to go but I don’t want to talk about anything to do with my personal faith.” Maybe I’m missing something, but that is what it feels like. But like I said above, I find spiritual journeys fascinating and I love to hear people’s stories.
So here are some things I wonder when I hear someone say “I’m spiritual, not religious”:
1. What do you think “religious” means?
I have never heard anyone say yet, “I’m religious”. In fact, I have never felt religious. When I think of religion I think of rules, regulations, and ruts. Bono once said, “Religion is what is left after Jesus has left the building.” If religion is blindly following institutional ritual for the sake of keeping my parents happy, appeasing some guilt, or acting out residual cultural inertia, then I am definitely NOT religious.
2. How does your spirituality affect your everyday life?
This one fascinates me. We are all created with such a wide spectrum of interests and passions. I know there are people who say they feel God’s presence in nature. For others, it’s listening to music. I know for myself, I love sailing. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most of the time I find sailing a “spiritual experience”. I sense God’s peace and presence when I’m partnering with the wind and waves on a sunny afternoon. Over time I have learned as well that my sailing experiences, while spiritual, do not actually affect my everyday life (other than to give me some down-time every now and then). When I’m having a difficult time and need direction or guidance, memories of last summer’s sailing adventures are no help to me. I need something more than that.
3. What does your spirituality look like on the ground?
Spirituality is a vague term that can mean a lot of things. Is there a set of principles that you are trying to follow? Is there a feeling you are chasing? Is there a story you are trying to live? Is there a fear or a doubt or a sense of guilt you are trying to avoid? Does your spiritual direction already look a lot like you? If so, the question then becomes, “Am I engaged in a spiritual journey or am I worshipping me?”
4. Can I explain why I feel like I am neither?
For me, something changed when I heard God invite me into a relationship. The voice that I heard didn’t say, “Come be spiritual.”, and it didn’t say, “Come be religious.” It said, “Come follow me.” What if everything good that spirituality and religion were originally supposed to point to became embodied in a person? What if God knew that the best way to speak to his creation was to become one of them himself? What if it’s possible to know God and hear him directly? I love sailing, and sailing is a spiritual experience for me, but sailing doesn’t speak to me in real time. When I met Jesus it was like I had finally found the real thing. Not only did I experience peace that I could not find anywhere else, I also found guidance and purpose like I never had before.
So what do you think about the phrase, “I’m spiritual, not religious.”?
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