Depending on where you look, the statistics present a variety of numbers about how many people identify as “spiritual, but not religious.” As the liturgical season of Lent—a time of preparation for Holy Week that includes spiritual practices—begins next week I wonder why those two identities need to be separate? Is there something diametrically opposite about religion that makes spirituality a viable alternative? Or has religion done something to disengage from spirituality, thus forcing people to choose? In the 40 days of Lent I hope to cultivate a both/and relationship between spirituality and religion because the either/or relationship just doesn’t make sense to me. Here are five reasons why I’m spiritual and religious:
1. Sunday is only one of seven days:
Most of us spend an hour—two at the most—each week in worship. This time is centered around glorifying God and reconnecting to our faith. What about the other six and a half days? Much happens between Sundays. I don’t always remember what was preached, read or sung. I need practices—like lectio divina, daily lectionary readings, and small group curriculums—to bridge the gap between Sundays. These spiritual practices reinforce what happens in worship and lead me to whats coming next.
2. I’m not as smart as I look:
Despite what my parents told me growing up, I’m not the smartest person in the world. I need other, smarter and wiser people around me. They provide a variety of mediums through which to nurture my faith. Also, they point me towards books, prayers and people who’ve engaged his/her faith in such a way that reminds me there isn’t one way to practice my faith during the week.
3. I’m not a literalist:
I start each day with scripture, but I don’t stop there. The Bible is filled with stories that contradict each other, present a variety of understandings of God and humanity and is filled with themes that permeate in our lives. But scripture doesn’t tell me everything I need to know about humanity and being a Christian. Great writers, poets and filmmakers reveal deeper, contextual truths about God, humanity and our interactions (or lack thereof). My faith is deepened by a poet’s words about fatherhood and what could have been going on in Abraham’s mind when he led Isaac to the mountaintop.
4. Nature is pretty, but so is the sanctuary:
I know God’s in the sunrise and all the beauty of nature, but God is also in the faces of those gathered to worship on Sunday mornings, the cross on the communion table and in the waters of the baptismal font. The sunrise displays God’s creation and its power to sustain us as humans; sanctuaries do the same thing. We need both; we need spaces that highlight God’s creative power and also sacred, set apart spaces. The complementary relationship expresses a richer, fuller understanding of who God is and how we interact with God.
5. The Church is made up of humans—no wonder it’s flawed:
The church isn’t perfect. It saddens me to think people proclaim it is or that it should be. We need all the humanity we can gather within the walls of the sanctuary. When we see the collective flaws of humanity we begin to realize we aren’t alone. Sure, presenting a prosperity gospel gives people something towards which to strive, but what happens when we fail? My vote is that we proclaim our brokenness as a means of community organizing—but we can’t stop there. We have to proclaim God’s love and grace that sustain us no matter what life presents. Combining those two is when—in my mind—we become spiritual and religious!
Are you spiritual and religious or one verses the other? Why?