One of the questions on OK Cupid that I encountered recently read: “Are spirituality and religion the same thing?” It is kind of funny that a dating app question really got me thinking about not so much how I would answer this question (no), but how I would explain my answer. While I don’t consider religion and spirituality the same thing, I never was able to quite articulate what the difference was, so I would continually skip answering that question. Fast forward a few weeks to me enjoying a quite weekend curled up on the couch with my coffee and a book. I was reading The Wisdom of Sundays: Life-Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations by Oprah Winfrey and came across the answer that had eluded me. Thank you Elizabeth Lesser for finding the words so I didn’t have to…
“Spirituality is this kind of fearless seeking nature. Like, it’s the part of us that says, Whoa. What made a tree? Who am I? What did I come from ? What made something out of nothing? Where do I go when I die? How do I live? How am I supposed to life? That’s spirituality. The seeking of truth. And it takes fearlessness to seek after truth. Religions are our attempt to answer the questions. And some of those answers are great and beautiful. And some of them are just dogma and rules that get us into trouble. ‘My rules are better than your rules.’ And then we fight about them. So spirituality is the questioning, and religions are our attempts at answers.”
I have had several uncomfortable discussions with people lately over religion, and what I choose to believe, and what influences those choices have on my young daughter. While I went to a Catholic grade school and a Jesuit college, got married in a church, and had my daughter baptized I no longer follow any type of organized religion, BUT I do consider myself spiritual, and open to the mysticism and teachings of many religions simultaneously. I feel lucky to have found a spiritualist church that I now attend which gives me back the sense of community I had been missing, but without all the prescriptions and sanctions.
Religious rituals and traditions can be beautiful moving experiences; there is something visceral about being in a darkened room, light filtering through stained glass windows, candles lit with purest prayer, the smell of burned away incense, and voices joined together in hymns of praise. I even can appreciate some of the pageantry – the pomp and circumstance, but when religion closes you off to other people and experiences, to other ways of being and moving in the world that are equally well-intentioned (not only did I just make that word up, but it is totally relative), then religion becomes a turn-off for me. Sarah Ban Breathnach explains it like this: “Religion says, ‘there ‘s only one way to heaven.’ Spirituality says, ‘Choose the one that brings you joy.” So many things that give me joy also make me feel closer to “God” – practicing yoga, watching waves crash endlessly on a shore, witnessing my daughter try something new, laughing over a shared joke, enjoying a perfectly prepared meal. Those are all “prayers” to me. All reminders of how interdependent we are. How vast the universe it. That miracles exist in those moments.
So as many of us gear up to spend time with friends and family over the holiday season, with its hyper-focus on religion, I thought it would be helpful to share Lesser’s words because they help me see us all as confused students fumbling to find the ‘correct’ answer. Viewed this way, I can find compassion where there used to be frustration, a shared sense of purpose as opposed to ideologies which divide us, and a reminder that sometimes the epiphanies happen in the search, whether or not we ever reach consensus on the conclusion.
via Elephant Journal