A large number of people label themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” I can understand this viewpoint; for some it is because of bad experiences with a major world religion, such as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. For others, it is not necessarily because of a previous experience, but just that they are skeptical of the idea of “organized religion.” Still, some may want to explore different religions before jumping into one; it is dipping one’s feet into the water before fully diving in. In any case, and no matter what category a person falls under, the individuals who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” recognize that there is something more to life than simply going after common and vain pursuits such as money and power.
However, the label “spiritual but not religious” is misleading; it implies that there is also a group of people who are “not spiritual and not religious.” To be honest, I do not think it is even possible to be “not spiritual.” The idea that one could not have a spiritual self at all, or that one could completely destroy or kill one’s spiritual self, does not make any sense.
The spirit is a characteristic of the physical body. It’s like saying one is one; it simply is. If you’ve read my previous post, “He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion,” you’ll get a better idea of where I am coming from in stating this. God created us; God breathed life into us, giving us a spirit. In this life, the body and the spirit are inseparable. They are intertwined into one existence – the human being. What happens to the spirit after death, we do not know exactly (check out N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope); we have many ideas though. Although, as a minister in Christianity, I believe that at the end of this sinful age there will be a resurrection of the dead and our spirit will return to our body through God’s power; we will live as one existence of the intertwined and inseparable physical and spiritual human being – the way God designed us to be – in a new eternal creation free from the bondage of death. This is what is supported by Christian scripture and thousands of years of tradition.
There is no one who is “not spiritual.” It is impossible. We are all spiritual beings. Granted, different people may deny or accept the reality of their spirituality on different levels, in effect, respectively, either suffocating or cultivating who they are. But we are all spiritual on some level. And as we become more in tune with ourselves, we realize that there is much more to life than simply the pursuit of vain items and materialism. We begin to realize the importance of the connections that exist within this world.
Jesus summarized it as he echoed the Jewish Shema of Deuteronomy 6: “Jesus answered, ‘The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these'” (Mark 12:29-31).
A few weeks ago in one of my classes at the U.S. Army Chaplain Basic Officer Leadership Course, one of my Chaplain instructors gave us his thoughts on a definition of spirituality: it is a person connecting with the four c’s – the creator, the community, the conscience, and the creation. Even if it is at a very basic level, we are all making these connections; we are becoming more in tune to the bigger picture of life. And as a Christian, I believe God made each one of us to have a role in this bigger picture; God created us to be people who are not selfish individuals, but selfless people who are always recognizing the connections we have.
Religion is a vital tool in developing this spirituality. Through religion, we cultivate and grow these connections and relationships. And perhaps most importantly, we learn to first develop our connection with God so that we can better develop our connections with the community, the conscience, and the creation. On our own, it is impossible to cultivate these connections. But through a connection with God, and with God working in us and changing our hearts, our other connections will grow into something we never believed was possible.
Christianity is based on the person of Jesus Christ; this religion is centered on Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Through Christ, we can experience the amazing love of God in his grace, forgiveness, and mercy, despite all that we have done wrong in life. Through Christ, we can become connected with God. And through that connection with God, we can learn to truly love one another. We can begin to understand ourselves, how we fit into the bigger picture of life, and be free from vain pursuits.
During this Easter season, I pray that no matter where we are on our spiritual journeys, whether we are struggling to take the very first step or have already been traveling for a thousand miles, we will begin to see the ultimate form of spirituality as a relationship with Christ. I pray that we will use the tools that thousands of years of the Christian tradition have given us to develop our connections with the creator, the community, the conscience, and the creation. I pray that we will explore and reflect on different aspects of what it means to be a Christian in whatever context we find ourselves in today. I pray that we will begin to learn how to worship God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And I pray that we learn to love our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves.
This week is Holy Week in western Christianity. Soon our brothers and sisters in eastern Christiany will also be celebrating these Holy days of the Christian calendar. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday – this week is the pinnacle event of Christianity. The significance of these days for our lives is the culmination of what it means to know ourselves and recognize our spirituality. The life, death, and resurrection of the Christ and the Messiah is the sum of what our connections to the creator, the community, the conscience, and the creation mean in each of our lives.
Happy Easter. Christ has risen. Let us celebrate.