Sunday, May 5, 2013

2013.05.05 Spirituality and Religion/Horse and Carriage

The last line of my post of April 28 was a bit snarky I admit. 

I wrote: “Oh, incidentally, I'm beginning to despise the word spiritual—so bleak and easy, avoidant and limp— though I understand its vogue.”

I dropped my gut feeling into the midst, and left it to hang there. A friend said: Pursue it.

I’m challenged to elaborate on what I would call the false dichotomy between religion and spirituality.  I’ve occasionally said “I’m religious not spiritual” to provoke conversation, but that sounds about as silly to me the oft-heard current comment: “I’m spiritual but not religious.”

The Governor of Massachusetts at the interfaith service for young Sean Collier, the MIT policeman who was arbitrarily shot to death by the Tsarnaev brothers made reference to “our spiritual religion.”  He was referring to some comforting words from a religious tradition. I was struck by the phrase "spiritual religion" and wondered if there was another kind of religion that wasn’t spiritual, like our civil religion.

When I was in seminary I took a course in American Religious History and well remember much discussion of the American civil religion, a way in which our country’s founding dreams and identity visions could be compared to a religion.

The word religion  (from Latin re + ligare or ligio, to bind, a bond or reverence) and the word ligament (fibrous connective tissues that binds bones together and holds joints secure) come from the same root: ligare.  To me this root connection suggests that religion can be connective as well as flexible, like a ligament.  Religion is not supposed to be a tight leash but a sure support that holds me together especially  in times of trouble, and that lets me stretch and grow to become the best woman and priest I can be.

Right now I am religious about my stretching exercises so my ligaments and muscles will support my bones and joints as I age.  I am also religious because I am faithful to a power greater than myself I call God and to the community of practice I call Church.  And sometimes I feel religious about my commitment to my country.

When Spirituality avoids Religion, it feels dissociated and, for me, comes up limping.  It’s also seem to me to be quite diffuse when it is unhooked from a community of ritual practice and worship. It’s too easy to say “I'm spiritual” and therefore free of religious obligation. A bit too individualistic.

I do understand that the extremes in major religions (fundamentalist Christians, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Jihadist Muslims) cause people to shrink from ALL religion, especially when a  religion detaches from God and attaches to social agenda about which it becomes militant.  

There is a growing group currently classified as the “nones.” (Yet I notice everyone loves the nuns-on-the-bus:)  Still, extremisms do NOT represent religion in general; their spirituality is fueled by aggression, and their theology talks up God as the Divine Potentate-with-gavel who condemns to Hell. 

Religion is what we do about what we give our hearts to.
Spirituality is what we feel deep down about what we give our hearts to.
Theology is how we speak and think about what we give our hearts to.

None stands alone.

In me, the best of religion and the best of spirituality "kiss" each other, as the Psalm says, when I am at my home altar mouthing and singing traditional religious prayers, many of them ancient, feeding myself with a snippet of Christ's "wafer-body," then uttering my personal prayers silently or aloud de profundis—and giving Jesus a kiss.