Sunday, August 25, 2013

Spiritual But Not Religious

graphic of flowers
I have been a disciplined church goer all of my life, except during college and for the first few years of married life when I did not live near a congregation of my own faith. During that time I was like a lot of people – unchurched – spiritual but not religious. That is a popular expression these days. It is sometimes an excuse given by people who are actually apathetic about religion altogether but feel somehow that they will otherwise be perceived to be shallow or lazy. Like many other people, though I did not attend weekly services, I still had a yearning for something mystical in my life, so I read sacred texts from a variety of religions and “new age” literature.

I meditated. I studied. I wrote down my visions and dreams, and tried to interpret their meaning. It was a spiritually and intellectually fertile period. But I missed the faith traditions that I grew up in. I also had a concern for my children. My personal development was flourishing but I felt that the kids’ were being neglected. I wanted for them the same benefits I got from being raised in a church community: the friendship and wisdom of older friends, and a basic religious education that would serve as the foundation for their spiritual journeys. Though I tried to teach them, I knew that I wanted to expose them to a wider body of knowledge.

We tried the church of my in-laws for a while but when one of my own faith was formed a few towns away I started dragging the kids there every Sunday. So began my return to the weekly discipline of church and a deep and sometimes obsessive dedication to my church. At one point I even worked part time for its regional religious organization. I rose within its leadership structure and recently I even traveled to Africa for a conference of mycoreligionists from around the world.

My children have not remained members of my church. One is atheist and the other a self described pantheist likewise has no interest in joining any church. There wasn’t any thing traumatic in their religious upbringing, but world events and history have taught them to be skeptical even cynical about organized religion. This may also be in part due to a natural resentment of being forced to go every week and having to share their Mom’s time with the church. Their father has never expressed any interest in these things and rarely attended with us. Their religious education was nonetheless not a waste of time because it provided us with many conversations and life lessons about integrity, human rights, and compassion. Ultimately even though they will likely remain “unchurched” they are (in my very biased opinion) principled kind people who are a joy to be with.

There have been highs and lows and many lessons learned for me as well. I have, for better or worse, over indulged for years in the dramas and responsibilities of church life. My local congregation remains an extension of my family. I love them deeply and cherish what we give one to another: unconditional care and support.

Now it is time for a break of sorts. I am about to begin a period in my life when I am letting go of most of my church responsibilities and committee work. I like the discipline of weekly worship so it is unlikely I will give that up. But, I’d like to take some time to be more spiritual than religious again. I am looking forward to more reading, more meditation, more writing. I am excited not just about looking forward, but looking back, and then looking holistically at the things I have learned in the context of a vast and mysterious universe. I will try to think great thoughts and humbly seek the gift of wisdom that I might pass it on to others who might amplify it with their own experiences.

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