Many of my friends know something about me that they view as odd. These people consider themselves to be spiritual but not religious (SBNR). Most of them know that I am spiritual but, for those close enough to notice, the surprise is that I am also religious.
Although I have always been involved with the church I have long understood how irrelevant institutional religion can be to one’s deepest spiritual longings. In many ways, this has often been true for me. For this reason, I have always been easily able to understand my SBNR friends. I have long identified more with those on a spiritual journey than I have with those who are simply religious. But I have also come to realize that religion and spirituality are deeply and intrinsically connected. Although they can be separated from each other, this always involves significant loss.
Even though it doesn’t always live up to its potential, religion holds unique possibilities as a force of healing, integration and transformation. At its best, it puts us in touch with the mythic and archetypal mysteries that shape our lives and serves as a powerful force to move us along the path of ever self-transcending human becoming. But equally important, it provides a framework that allows us to be in contact with the transcendent while remaining grounded in the realities of ordinary life. And it connects us back to the roots of our existence and of our shared humanity. It represents, therefore, an extremely valuable resource for healing our brokenness and making us more whole.
In his book, Integral Spirituality, Ken Wilber suggests two extremely important and unique contributions that religion can make to the transformational journey. The first is that religion provides the only credible source of authority that can sanction the higher stages of human development for those within any given spiritual tradition. Christianity, for example, can pronounce such things as being at one with God and at one with all of creation an integral part of the Christian vision of the journey into God. This makes the Spirit-centered levels of consciousness and self organization legitimate and sacred. The second crucially important contribution that religion can make is to support contemplative spiritual practices. Religion is the most legitimate context for these practices. While meditation or contemplative prayer certainly can be, and often are, adopted apart from their religious context, their fullest potential will always be limited. That potential, however, is unlocked when contemplative practices are grounded in a spiritual tradition and embedded in a living community that encourages growth, change and transformation.
The reason I remain involved with the church is that I am blessed to be a part of a community that lives these ideals of deep religion. Don’t despair if, despite longing for such a community, it remains elusive. Enlarge your horizons and look beyond the places with which you are comfortable. But equally important, don’t settle for anything less than religion that genuinely brings you life. If it doesn’t bring you life it is likely depleting your spirit – and that’s an extremely high price to pay.