Faith Matters - But Not Religious

Each one of us has our own spiritual type. Or it may be more precise to say that we are a spiritual type. I suppose that I have always known this. But like so many other truths in the hidden places, it is largely unexamined. As a result of the wondrous interplay of genetics, environment, education, and the homogenizing action of God’s providence, we each respond differently to the spiritual in the everyday. When the table is spread, we fill our plates with the food that satisfies.

What feeds my mind, nourishes my spirit, and gives me life can leave another person standing right beside me bored or hungry, glancing at the clock or the nearest exit. Likewise, I can be standing in the midst of a hurricane of religious ecstasy as a disinterested outsider wondering about the lunch menu. Others can be passing the serpents around and I am checking to see if I have my snakebite kit. It has nothing to do with respecting the spirituality of others, which I surely do. It is just that what feeds others may not feed me. I do work to stretch my boundaries. At the great potluck meal of the family of God, it is good to sample a new casserole occasionally.

My spirituality leads me in the direction of silence, meditation, listening, Eucharist, poetry, parable, paradox, and mystery. I prefer solitude to small group conversation. I prefer listening to talking. I prefer invitation to instruction. I prefer Psalms to Leviticus. I prefer less to more. There is a part of me that instinctively shrinks from a Mardi Gras of what is most precious.

On my Christian walk, I have been claimed by questions more than answers. Questions move me to seek, pray, wonder and search. Answers, while not unwelcome, tend to curtail the expedition. When the proverbial two roads diverge in a wood, the “one less traveled by” is the one that does not end at answers, but rather deepens the questions. Both roads can and do bring faithful pilgrims to their hearts’ delight, no doubt. But there are at least two roads, because there are at least two ways to the center. God meets us where we are and leads each of us on a path to the fullness of grace. The hunger and the food are grace from the same source.

Spirituality, like an iceberg, is more hidden than revealed. But, on the other hand, I have always believed that spirituality reveals itself in discipleship. If I never move from the silence, and if I never do anything with the parable, then my spirituality is incomplete.  If I leave the cathedral unchanged, I am just another tourist. And so it is a puzzle to me to know what to make of the current popular expression, “I am spiritual, but I am not religious.”

In part, I take the comment as a negative judgment on religion as something that is of less value than spirituality. Spiritual is something pure, while religion is something messy. Spiritual makes for serenity, while religion makes for strife. Spiritual gives me something, while religion demands something of me. Spiritual is private, while religion is public. Spiritual is of heaven, while religion is of earth.

Yet, I cannot understand how being spiritual can be an end in itself. I believe that being spiritual is being present to God, so we might in turn be present for others. It is a movement to the center, so we might in turn move to the margins. It is the experience of the peace of God, too good not to be shared. In and of itself, spirituality can become aesthetics, beautiful sunsets to help us get to sleep, sweet music to help us forget our troubles or a retreat into me and mine. Being spiritual is wonderful, but not the whole story.

I understand that spirituality is what is happening to me in the presence of transforming grace, gradually being claimed by the life abundant. I understand religion to be sharing the Bread of Life, being present for others, moving to the margins, and pointing others to amazing grace.

And so I am puzzled about being spiritual but not religious. But in the end, I am grateful when I hear it, for it invites me to remember that my spirituality and my religion are just one dwelling. One is the foundation, and the other the house built upon it.

God’s peace.

Chuck Johns


By: Reverend Chuck Johns On 11/1/2009
Topics: Faith Matters