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. Let’s try to see the good thing they are pointing to, because I think they feel it’s a thoughtful, virtuous way to live life. And it is.
“I’m spiritual”. As best as I understand, this broad approach to human life, 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.
I must say, it’s hard to say much more about this mysterious “spirit”. How do you get it? Or, how do you experience it? The experience seems to best be described as a feeling (sometimes an intuition). The feeling you get with a full moon on new fallen snow, somehow points to…a universal, spiritual plan for all creation. This plan is good and benevolent – – – so relax. Enjoy it. Everything is going to be OK.
That’s not bad, eh? Really. It sensitizes people to the beauty around us, like some beautiful melody playing in the background. When we feel this “good spirit” we say, “I don’t have to 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.)
But what happens when life turns ugly? When sorrow or sickness or tragedy strikes? What happens when I don’t feel my spiritual side – when my walk in the woods is scary and lonely? When life and its demands feel over-whelming? Just 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?
True Religion begins when God acts.
The Christian religion says that God has actually revealed himself to us in the book we call the Bible.
Through a 5000 year old process of recording God’s actions in human history (in the beginning creating the heavens and earth, calling a people to a special relation-ship with him (the Jews), and finally coming to live among us in human form (Jesus Christ), we have a pretty explicit knowledge of God, what he’s like, and even what he wishes us to call him . . . Father.)
So, Christians are tied to this belief about God and human existence. The word “religion” itself has the notion of being “bound” to something (religare – Latin meaning “to bind together”).
This binding to what has been revealed is really important, because it signifies God’s actions toward us. God takes the initiative in coming to us. Sometimes people get it backward. We think religion is like buying a car. You try to find one that suits your taste, something that gives you a certain feeling, something that doesn’t cost too much. In this case, religion is something WE generate. It becomes a product of human invention, the purpose of which is to make me feel better. Marx was right when he called this kind of religion the “opiate” (drug) of the people.
True religion is our response to what has been shown to us in what we call Revelation. Religion is something we practice. 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 totally different than the Re-incarnation for Buddhists).
It’s here I think we go back to two things. True religion 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 by another human being, Jesus Christ.
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” Luke 9:35.