Have you heard someone say that to you? It seems to be a common phrase these days. Many feel it best expresses their view of life. Let’s take a minute to see what they mean by that. Let’s try to see the good thing they are pointing to because they feel it’s a thoughtful, virtuous way to live life. And it is.
“I’m spiritual”. It means a person is aware that there is “something” in this world beyond what we can see and touch. There is something that can’t be spotted by our microscopes or telescopes or chemical analysis. It’s a spirit that has a meaning and beauty that makes human life worth living. It seems very active in those “peak” moments of life . . . falling in love, the birth of a child. One gets the sense of being connected to something bigger than themselves, something kind and beautiful.
The phrase, “I’m spiritual”, is a non-technical term trying to describe a feeling or an intuition. When I am aware of it, I experience myself fitting into a universal, spiritual plan. The plan is good and benevolent, and I feel happy that I could connect with it.
That’s not bad, eh? Really. It sensitizes people to the beauty around us. It’s like a melody playing in the back-ground. When we feel this “good spirit” we say, “I don’t go to church. My church is a walk in the woods.” I think we’ve all found the beauty of nature touching us and leading us to the Creator. We’re all “spiritual” in this sense.
So what’s the problem with this? It doesn’t hurt anybody. There have been no wars fought over being “spiritual”.
My only thought at this point is there’s no one to thank. It’s a painting without a painter; a symphony without a composer. We’re still ALONE. Ultimately what good is that?
What happens when life turns ugly? What happens when I don’t feel my spiritual side; when sorrow or sickness or tragedy strikes? When my walk in the woods is scary and lonely? When life and its demands feel overwhelming? Being “spiritual” somehow doesn’t get to the depth of the human experience.
OK, so what about “religion” and how is it different from that “spiritual” feeling? What follows are words from someone who “believes in God”.
The Christian religion says that God has actually revealed himself to us in the history of the human race. There was a 5000 year old process of recording God’s actions in human history called the Bible (the creation of the heavens and earth, calling a people to a special relationship with him (the Jews), and finally coming to live among us in human form (Jesus Christ)).
In this process we are given a pretty specific description of who God is and how God acts. Time and again Jesus would say, “the Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .” and there would follow a picture of some aspect of God, right down to his name – – “Father”. One of his stories describes heaven to a king who has a banquet and we humans are invited guests.
So, Christians can’t walk away from this Revealed Word. We are tied to this belief about God and human existence. The word “religion” itself has the notion of being “tied to” something (religare – Latin meaning “to bind together”).
“Being tied to” what has been revealed is really important because it gives us the knowledge to know who God is. The people who hold this knowledge and act according to its instructions have what we call “religion”.
But, aren’t there many religions? Yes, there are many religions. So, then it doesn’t matter which one I practice, right? It does if you want to know the truth. They all might have something of the truth, but they can’t all be right. (The Resurrection of the Dead for Christians is to-tally different than the Re-incarnation for Bhuddists).
It’s here I think we go back to two things. True religion, unlike “being spiritual” has to deal with, 1. the staggering beauty of human life in both its joys and sorrows – – – what best explains who we are? What is love? How can there be suffering and yet still a God we can honestly worship? 2. How does one come to the knowledge and love of such a Being?
Answers to these questions are beyond our ability to fathom. God has to help us. He has to give us something that will touch the deepest recesses of the human heart and open us to His Mystery. It’s called the gift of Faith, and it was delivered to us in actual words by another human being, Jesus Christ .
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” Luke 9:35.
Blessings to you. Fr. Tim