Religious, But Not Spiritual

We’ve probably all had someone tell us they are a spiritual person, but not very religious. Oftentimes, for me, this is after the mention of my chosen profession. “Oh, you’re a minister – yeah, I used to go to church many years ago, but it just didn’t agree with me. It’s just so…[fill-in-the-blank: hypocritical, boring, etc.].  But I am still very spiritual. I believe in God. I’m just not very religious…” [awkward pause] “Oh, but I’m sure your church is really great!”

Why yes, it is. RRCB has one of the most beautiful and meaningful worship service structures I have ever attended or been a part of. It has the depth of meaning, the story-in-song, the aesthetics of a cathedral, all with a Baptist, soul- and Bible-affirming twist. And when we’re not worshiping, we’re doing the work of the Body of Christ. We are feeding the hungry, creating community, visiting the sick, affirming one another.

And yet – do you ever feel like you or someone you know involved in so many activities suddenly realizes that doing this, while it is philanthropic and good, no longer touches your soul in ways that God becomes more present?

Perhaps it is because you’re too busy to see Jesus (e.g., Martha). Perhaps you just never “got” the whole life-as-prayer or devotional time; it feels awkward. Perhaps there is still some doubt as to the veracity of God, but you definitely see good people and want to be a part of their good work in the name of this God you haven’t really gotten to know yet.

We are all somewhere on this faith journey.

I think it can be easy for us to fall into the trap of good works. Not in the self-righteous sense, but in the sense that we are doing a lot of good work with good hearts but never finding the “God moments,” missing the connection to the Divine in our work.

In his sermon this past Sunday, Mike Clingenpeel told us how very connected we are with technology and yet how very disconnected we can become from our Source, the Vine to our branches.

So, what are we busy Christians to do about this disconnect? How do we stop being religious but not spiritual?

I think the answer lies in our recognition that our spirit needs the same hard work as the missions we endeavor to pursue as a congregation.  One theologian, Baron von Hügel said that we have three dimensions: the intellectual, the institutional, and the mystical. We must nourish all three to be well-rounded People of the Book.

That mystical, or spiritual, part of us is often lost in our very logic-laden, post-Enlightenment, exuberantly busy world. We want neat, tidy ways of doing life. But mysticism seems to “waste time” and requires a lot of sitting alone and cultivating personal disciplines that will interfere with our daily lives, force us to face our deepest fears and longings, and drive us to see everything we do in a new Light.

Learning Spiritual Practices is a lot like learning to manage your time to study in school. It requires some persistence, some mess ups, and some ongoing changes of pace as we grow and learn. I would encourage you in the coming weeks to join me in a journey to beingreligious AND spiritual. Here are a few steps to help us get started (adapted from Thirsty for God by Bradley P. Holt):

  • Learn to sit attentively in silence. Sit up straight, spine perpendicular to the floor and with both feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Relax. Find a comfortable place for your arms and hands.  Let your muscles relax, moving from feet to head. Become aware of your breathing. Take deep breaths, in through the mouth, and our through the nose. Now you are in a state of relaxed alertness. As your mind wanders, it can be helpful to mentally move those thoughts away. If you have a candle, you may wish to symbolically view those distracting thoughts burning in the flame and disappearing. Silence is not easy and you should not blame yourself if it takes a while to settle into this kind of activity. Start small. Do 5 minutes of silence then 10, 15, 20 as you become more comfortable. You will likely find a kind of disruptive peace in these periods of still. You will find God’s still, small voice. [Note: if you cannot find quiet in your homes – I hear you moms and dads of young ones! – Remember that our chapel is open every day during business hours for meditation and prayer. It’s made for it – drop by on your way into work or whenever you have a break!]
  • Take a walk. Focus on your body’s rhythm – heartbeat, breathing, muscle tensions. Breathe in the freedom of being outside of a box (room). Imagine yourself on a walk with God. Look up at the sky or tall trees – see the vastness of creation.
  • Pray. Many of us are quick to offer a prayer of thanks for a meal or a request for something specific, but perhaps extend your “praying as talking to God” (mostly asking for things) to include praying in other ways that inform communication with God: Gratitude, Praise, Wonder, Confession, Complaint, and all the other ways we relate to other people. Prayer is not just one way of speaking, it is all communication we have with the Divine. It is our whole relation to God. Broaden your relationship with God but broadening your practice of prayer.
  • Write about your life. You could start by placing your date of birth and today’s date on far ends of a sheet of paper. Revisit places, time periods, events in your life (whether spiritual or ordinary, as both affect us). Which of these major events or places or people in your life have most affected how you view Creation, God, Church, and good works? Which of these moved your soul? As Denise Bennett told us on Wednesday night at Telling Our Faith Stories, the process of telling our faith stories begins with outlining those parts of our lives that have meaning. When did you receive or give a particularly meaningful gift? What place in your life holds sacred value? How does your family celebrate, mourn? Do you have unconventional family members or friends? Who has shaped you? After you have written these down, begin to share with trusted friends your journey. Ask them the same questions. Christian friends walking this same spiritual journey with you will provide space to be accountable for disciplines and to share, laugh, and have community together as you experience God in deeper, more profound ways in this walk of faith.

[cross-posted from the Pastor’s Blog at ]

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