Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Relationship Between Spirituality and Religion

Every once in a while, I hear someone make the assertion, "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual." I see where they're coming from. The statement is usually uttered by someone who is trying to demonstrate that their faith is a deep component of their personality, and not simply empty, outward tradition or mindless, repetitive action.

But for me, I think the concepts of religion and spirituality only take on meaning when understood together. I don't think a person can have one without the other. While spirituality is the inward change experienced through faith, religion is its outward expression. Both are human responses to God's action in the world (what we refer to as "revelation").

As a hospice chaplain, the analogy I immediately go to describes the difference between grief and mourning. Grief is the inward, emotional and psychological experience of loss. Mourning is its outward expression. Indeed, it's no accident that grief is almost always described as a spiritual experience and mourning usually includes religious ritual.

So when a person tells me, "i'm not religious, I'm spiritual," a number of questions immediately come to mind. If your faith and spirituality are indeed shaping your life and worldview, do they not find expression in every day actions? Do those actions include ritual or repeated expression? If not, do you really have faith or is what you are experiencing just intellectual assent, compartmentalized and far removed from other areas of life? Are you confusing knowledge (gnosis) with faith? Are you allowing your interactions, relationships, and actions (the substance of religion) to be transformed by faith? Can spirituality even be truly transformative without physical expression?

It isn't my intent to judge anyone's faith or spirituality, I just want us (me included) to take a deep look at our assertions and how they actually reflect our lives and practices. Words have different meanings for different people. When we make a claim (often with the implication that our opinion is superior), we should make sure that at most it can hold up to scrutiny, and at the very least, that we are talking about the same things.

#Spirituality #Religion #Faith

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