What is "Spirituality"?

Last week, the Pew Research Center released a new report about the continuing decline of organized religion in America. There are a lot of factors causing the decline of attendance in “mainline” churches, but by far the most frequent reason people give for not going to church is simply that they consider themselves “spiritual” but not “religious.” What they mean is that they don’t like organized religion.
There are many reasons to dislike organized religion, of course, but in reading the granular Pew report, the corruption, scandals, and big-business like nature of most organized religions is not what’s keeping people away. Rather, the “nones,” the people who declare affinity for God but not for religion, don’t attend church simply because the version of God presented in most churches is archaic.
Being raised in a pluralistic world has been a blessing for most of us. People attracted to the more mystical side of life can draw from a variety of traditions to have a profound spiritual experience. Transcendental meditation, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam—these are all just different ways people use to seek an experience with God. None of the world’s great religions or philosophical systems is perfect. They all have something interesting to offer, and using them together is often more effective than using one alone. All the religions and spiritual philosophies draw from one another anyway.

Personally, Buddhism led me to intense and fruitful meditation practices. Judaism conveys the importance of family and the idea that God never abandons us, no matter how bleak the present looks. Christianity teaches me that God is nearer to me than even my own breath. Science reveals God as the very being of creation—not a being outside of it, looking down on us, judging us and finding fault. That's the image keeping people away from religion.
When I finally found a church that was comfortable discussing all these things, a church that acknowledged that Jesus and the disciples were Jewish, a church that was willing to discuss and learn from Buddhism and Islam, a church that embraced people all over the world no matter what their religion or lack thereof, I knew I had found my home. I too had been firmly spiritual but not religious. But you know what? That’s a lonely journey. It takes a lot of work. It’s easy to stagnate. When I finally found a group of people who had also felt the very real touch of God, I was suddenly propelled back into action—both to spiritually connect with God, and also to serve my community.
Perhaps the greatest contribution of Christianity to the planet’s overall spiritual experience has been the idea that, like Jesus, spiritual people—whether religious or not, are called to serve the common good. We’re called to march on Washington to fight racial injustice. We’re called to take food to the hungry and fight city hall for shelter for the homeless. Christianity and Islam, like the Judaism that birthed them, is best done in groups—it’s a communal effort, and these spiritual communities are typically called religions.
We can be “spiritual but not religious,” but the church cannot—and should never be—religious and not spiritual. That’s certainly not the way Moses, Jesus or Mohammed experienced God. It’s not the way they taught their disciples to experience God. Spirituality without religion may be lonely, but it still leads us to a palpable God experience. Religion without spirituality does nothing except drive people away.
Meditation: Fill the world with your presence, Infinite Holy One.

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