All of my life I have been very quiet about my spiritual beliefs. I think I learned from a young age that living in West Michigan without a deep connection to a specific religion or church was somehow a cause for shame. Maybe it came from so many years of people wanting to change me/fix me/save me by converting me over to their beliefs when they found I didn't have a powerful church connection of my own. Not one to blindly follow anything, I actually tried many different churches searching for one I felt at home in, but I always found "rules" and reasons that I could not wholeheartedly follow. Eventually I just stopped trying, yet continued to believe in God in my own way.
Recently I have been more verbal about my spirituality and a friend, who also grew up in GR, sent me something they had written years ago explaining their answer to the age old question of: Are you religious? Imagine my surprise by how beautifully this described my feelings on the subject as well. Although my friend's story is not exactly mine, it is mine in so many ways.
My friend has graciously allowed me to share this with you in hopes it may help others let go of long-held beliefs that what they believe is somehow not good enough. There is great power in knowing you are not alone. Thank you friend --you rock!
Am I Religious?
It depends. Religion, in my view, is a ritualistic means to a spiritual end and church is simply organized religion. Spirituality, on the other hand, is a quest for enlightenment, the search for truth. It is a personal and purposeful journey, one unencumbered by ritual. Although I’m not religious in the traditional sense, spirituality influences everything I do. It is the foundation of my character and it defines who I am.
I attended church as a child and at various times as an adult but my spiritual journey accelerated after an epiphany I experienced while traveling between C and D concourses at O'Hare airport in 1995. Most of the people between the concourses were on the moving sidewalk. I was not. Everyone, including me, was putting one foot in front of the other. Yet those on the moving sidewalk were getting farther, faster than I was. For some inexplicable reason I thought that spirituality (religion to some) was like that. Once you make a conscious choice to get on board, to accept that there are forces in the universe that defy explanation, you will be thrust forward. At that very moment, I simply surrendered a portion of myself and the result has been a clarity that wasn't there before. More order, less confusion. More peace, less angst. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't actually experienced it myself. In fact I waited many years before I even shared it with anyone because I didn't completely trust it. I do now.
Here is what I believe.
I believe there is a spiritual impulse in everyone. A desire to comprehend the order of the universe and the kinship of mankind. All religions attempt to bring understanding to these complex issues. None have done it adequately for me. As a result, I don't belong to a church or denomination though much of what I believe is rooted in Christian principles, absent the dogma and perhaps with a pinch of the metaphysical. Although I believe in an omnipresent force, I don't believe that God (however defined) guides our daily lives and helps us choose between Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies in the morning. However, I do believe there is a natural order to the universe and the culmination of your life's experiences determines your place in that order. Like a profession of faith in the traditional sense, you cannot fully appreciate the order of things until you accept that you are not self-derived, self-sufficient, or self-sustaining.
Spirituality is a process that requires both contemplative persistence and intellectual surrender. Little effort is needed to believe that life is mostly random happenstance. Tremendous effort is needed to comprehend what cannot be logically explained. Neither effort has any meaningful return unlike the surrender I described above, which pays immediate dividends if it is sincere, passionate and unconditional. When you accept that forces exist in ways that defy explanation, you are no longer burdened by the need for empirical evidence that all life is connected and all lives are purposeful. You simply accept it because in your heart you know it to be true. You embrace it and it embraces you. Some call it faith and others call it fate. It's all the same to me and it doesn't matter how you get there. I respect anyone who commits themselves to spiritual endeavors as long as it goes beyond blindly accepting whatever they are told. Commitment to a ritual without conviction of the heart nets you nothing. To simply go through the motions of religious practice without the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment is both pointless and ultimately unrewarding. I don't believe you can ever experience heaven, or nirvana, or self-actualization, or whatever you seek without an honest, cognitive exploration of your individual spirituality. Although my definitions might differ from others, I can say without hesitation that I believe in God, I believe in prayer, I believe in faith and fate, and I believe we are all connected by a force that must be engaged but can never be fully understood.
So whenever I’m asked if I’m religious, my answer usually goes something like this……
- I believe you are religious not by proclaiming it, but by living it. That your actions and the thoughts that occupy your mind, day in and day out, on this earth, in this time, are more important than any profession of faith.
- I believe you are religious when you stop deluding yourself that you are self-derived, self-sufficient, or self-sustaining, whether you believe in creation or evolution, or neither, or both.
- I believe you are religious when you hold some hope beyond the present, some self-respect beyond your failures whether you believe in an after-life or not.
- I believe you are religious when your heart is capable of boundless joy because you are driven by the notion that life is a gift and should be treated as such.
- I believe you are religious when it is your impulse to seek out the good in all things because you passionately believe it exists in all things.
- I believe you are religious when you have an abiding gratitude for all you have received regardless of your circumstances or the circumstances of others.
- I believe you are religious when you can look beyond the whole of mankind and see the splendor of the universe and a purpose in your own heart.
- I believe you are religious when you have done all that you can to know your own heart and then, in confidence, entrust yourself to a force that is much larger than yourself.