I’ve met people who feel that religion and spirituality don’t have a place in their lives. They are half right. It is possible to have nothing to do with organized religions and still be spiritual.
“Religion” means “to the bound to.” There are all sorts of ways of being bound to others and not just having to do with God. Sports, family events, concerts, holiday celebrations…they all are, in a general sense, “religious” because they connect us in celebration of common values and beliefs.
“Spirit” means “breath.” Spirituality is the way people have described their experience of “breathing in” the transcendent wonders around them. Spirituality feeds on anything that provokes awe, wonder, joy, or love. Nature, the cosmos, birth, death, the arts, sexuality, relationships, food…they all feed our souls, our spirit, in ways that defy mere words.
Yet, most people associate spirituality with religion. Why? Because religion is an organized, standardized way of teaching about and ritualizing spiritual matters. But what happens when spiritual practices, and rituals associated with religion, no longer have meaning?
When you mature you may find that your religion is not keeping up with you. You may feel it necessary to disconnect the link between religion and your personal spirituality. You may for a time need to “color outside the lines” as you explore what the spirit in you is trying to say.
I was a Catholic parish priest for thirty-two years and a spiritual director. I have been a life coach for a decade. I’ve worked with thousands of people, all of whom were seeking spiritual fulfillment, inside and outside of organized religion. I have heard repeatedly six things people feel about religion and spirituality.
1. “I loved my religion as a kid and I still love it.” Great news: your needs are likely being met. Challenges may arrive that upset this balance, yet you are ready to respond with confidence. Your beliefs, no matter how “unscientific” sounding help you make sense of abstract concepts such as forgiveness, salvation, and faith. You enjoy living “in the world but not of the world.” You rely on the traditional “giants” of your faith for spiritual nourishment.
2. “I used to love my religion and now I’ve changed.” Change is good. Moving in a new direction may be the best choice you can make for yourself. This inner “call” to explore alternatives may guide you to a new spiritual path. You may find that your new focus shifts you to explore the deeper meaning behind ancient scriptural metaphors. This may be the threshold to a deeper transcendence and a fuller experience of the spirit.
3. “I married into my religion for the sake of my spouse and kids.” This is very common. Hopefully both you and your spouse find common ground for your spiritualities and for the way in which you choose to practice the meaningful religious rituals. Only people, not institutions, can enliven common spiritual values, beliefs, and behaviors. Appreciation for your partner’s spirituality is the golden opportunity for your family to benefit from your spiritual outlook.
4. “My religious rituals give me structure but I get my spiritual inspiration elsewhere.” Religion itself is not spirituality. It is a container that holds our collective spiritual traditions. No religion can meet everyone’s needs. Life change frequently comes from sources quite apart from religion. It’s up to you to discover where and how and respond without shame or guilt. Go with it and find out what works for you.
5. “I never grew up in a religion, and now I am curious.” A many people religion is important only to mark important events, such as marriage or death. Is this true for you? Do you want more? Do you have questions that hunger for answers, dilemmas that need solutions? Are you ready to connect to new sources of awe and wonder? You are being invited to explore! A spiritual retreat, a talk with a spiritual director, or reading good spiritually based authors can be great starting points.
6. “My parents and elders used religion to control my life.” No one ever experienced a spiritual awakening or a change in lifestyle through forced conforming, mind-control, bulling, shaming, abuse, or denigration. Unfortunately, a number of religious communities still use these methods. You need to know that your tender spirituality was turned inside-out and manipulated to subjugate your conscience. Your elders preached a warped interpretation of scriptures. Maybe you’ve been shunned, excommunicated, or threatened in some way. There is nothing spiritual about this. You’re worth infinitely more. Seek healing.
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My book can help: Life Interrupted: Taking Charge After Everything Has Changed