Spiritual but not religious?

I know, it’s something I would have claimed for myself, too, way back when.

And it is a common identity for many today.

But after five decades in a disciplined tradition, here’s how I’ve come to see it:

It’s like the difference between a one-night stand and marriage.

Or between lust and love.

Quakers preferred clear glass windows. These are from another tradition embodied at the Lubec Congregational Church.

On a less flip note, I’ll admit that a problem with a lot of religion arises when it comes second-hand, even as speculation or shallow platitude, rather than from a personal experience of the mysterious divine. And also when it’s approached as law, with its thou-shalt-nots and rewards or punishments, rather than a relationship with the Wondrous Other. (I’ll leave the particular definitions open, for now.) I’ve called the latter approach “thinking in metaphor,” for good reason.

You can see how the theoretical or law-and-order approaches can mess up a romantic relationship. Ditto with the practice of faith.

By the way, I cherish religion that addresses daily life, in the here and now, more than in an abstract hereafter, though I’ll also agree with Freud’s disciple Otto Rank that religion is the one means we humans have with dealing with our ingrained fear of death.

To my eyes, this one is surprisingly secular for a church sanctuary. It’s unabashedly intended to be merely pretty.

As the saying goes, God is in the details, and I can be quite critical of various traditions and teachings, including my own. Missing the mark, in a Jewish translation, is one definition of sin. At those points, turning – the basis of the word “repentance” – is required. But I’ve also come to cherish what one old Quaker called “mutual irradiation,” those places where humble practitioners of different disciplines cross paths and inspire each other.

Admittedly, I do come at this from an essentially mystical community that requires individual awareness, one that’s sometimes referred to as an Alternative Christianity. For a better feel of it, visit my As Light Is Sown blog.

In that stream, William Penn, an unapologetic Christian minister, boldly wrote in the late 1600s:

“The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious and devout souls everywhere are of one religion and when death has taken off the mask, they will know one another, though the diverse liveries they wore here make them strangers.”

As for religion, he noted:

“There is a zeal without knowledge, that is superstition. There is a zeal against knowledge, that is interest or faction; there is a zeal with knowledge, that is religion; and if you will view the countries of cruelty, you will find them superstitious rather than religious. Religion is gentle, it makes men better, more friendly, loving and patient than before.”

What do these windows say about the people who filled the pews?

Put another way, spirituality and religion are two sides of the coin. One without the other would be counterfeit.


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