exploring "spiritual not religious"

This is for the spiritually homeless...

Every time I’d make my introductory phone call as a hospice chaplain to a newly diagnosed terminally ill patient my anxiety was palpable. Not only was I phoning a stranger in a time where we primarily communicate via text, I was contacting someone or their loved ones facing imminent death, a tough ordeal for anyone. I had the almost-impossible task of getting an invitation into the most private of places in someone’s life, their spirituality.

I’d wonder… would I have a chance to explain my clinical spiritual care role? What kind of assumptions would I be working against? Generally people hear the word “spiritual” and assume it means “religious” but in truth spirituality far transcends religious beliefs.  

Spirituality lies at the heart of what it means to be human. It’s how we find meaning and purpose in life. More often than not I’d get in the door, promising I didn’t carry a bible and wouldn’t even go there, unless that is what was desired. Often, I was met with a sigh of relief.  

Seeing past the hologram of religion.

It’s 2017. Topics like religion and politics are no longer off the table. They are very much on the table, demanding to be dissected and examined so that maybe, just maybe, we (us humans) can finally manage to escape the cycle of war, hatred, and competition between each other and within ourselves.

Religion is a double edge sword. The beauty of religion is its ability to create unity by binding people, often in tight knit communities, around a shared belief system. At its best, one’s religious community is a source for cultural and spiritual practices, guidelines for personal growth, and a source of support.

On the other hand, the unity created within a religion can serve as a basis for separation from the rest of the world, if their spiritual perspective includes believing their path is superior and right. Furthermore, religion is a reflection of culture therefore it’s deeply embedded into every aspect of life. By and large America is a Christian society who “practices” religious inclusion and tolerance but the recent political climate is dissolving this façade.

On a large scale, more and more people are beginning to question everything, including their faith. I see this is a good thing, as questioning indicates open-mindedness, an essential trait for continued personal growth.

" Every religion is true one way or another.
It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble. "
-  Joseph Campbell

Thousands of years ago when humans relied on primitive living skills they possessed a natural intuitive sense and wisdom, including a connection and understanding of the sacredness to life. As the patriarch emerged oppression replaced spiritual autonomy. A significant shift occurred; access to the divine was now only available through a middleman (or institution). A hologram was created.

Today? Well, we’re all desperately trying to find our way home, back to the place of being in relationship with what is sacred and true.

We’re searching for the portal to truth, to sacred embodied knowing, like we possessed thousands of years ago before technology obliterated our connection. Even those who’ve lived safely and securely within their spiritual beliefs seek this at times.

My experience as a hospice chaplain confirmed what I thought to be true: more and more people are self-identifying as “spiritual not religious” if only in the privacy of a safe dynamic. I can’t count the number of people who in their final days whispered in my ear doubts and hesitations. I would meet their questioning with understanding and affirm the courage it took to voice their truth and explore their questions.

"God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought.
It's as simple as that." - Joseph Campbell

Regardless of the color of your skin, where you fall in the social strata or how smart you is, we are bonded by the human experience. In bridging back to the basics, much like food and water, we all have universal spiritual needs. Your spirituality may be defined outside a religion or a movement (like new age spirituality) and that's totally cool. You’re not alone.

Yes you can be "spiritual not religious" even if that puts a puzzled look on your neighbors face. Seekers at heart, spiritual not religious people belong to themselves, only.

We are the spiritually homeless.

We value spiritual autonomy and reject a formalized belief system and their rulebooks. We understand that the direct portal to the divine is through nature and direct experience. Nature is our church. Life is the path to discovering truth. And our soul is our teacher.

Separating spirituality from religion.

Remember one's spirituality may or may not fall within a religion or defined path. Spirituality certainly exists within religion but not solely. To recap, religion is a defined set of beliefs centralized around a sacred text (believed to contain the truth), formalized rituals, and expected cultural norms. 

While spirituality is the lens of your personal perspective, ruling...

  • Your fundamental framework of understanding life (creation, death, afterlife...)
  • How you seek comfort, create meaning, and explain things
  • How you find purpose, connection, and service to others
  • Your cultural orientation, personal opinions, and spiritual practices
  • How you engage in personal and spiritual growth
  • The path of accessing the sacred

You can see how one's spirituality and spiritual perspective is greatly influenced by those who identify, observe, and participate in a religion.

It’s pretty clear that I hold the opinion that there is no "right" spiritual path, only personal preference and that you are the ultimate authority on such matters, for yourself.

If you find yourself questioning your spirituality or feel the distance imposed by our patriarchal culture, know that, that pain is real. You’re not alone. Follow the thread of your experience, spend more time in nature, and explore creative modalities to kick start your intuition, your most reliable inner compass to the sacred.

We're in this together. Truly.