Sunday, July 09, 2006

Religion v. spirituality

Even as I am feeling drawn more and more toward my local Catholic parish, this weekend found me playing my old game of parsing signs and signals about which church to attend until almost the last minute, when I got in the car and headed for the Episcopal church I've been appreciating recently. In his homilies, the priest there explores depths of meaning in the scripture readings and other topics that really interest me, and once again this week he touched on a subject I've been pondering lately myself, the differences between religion and spirituality, though I admit I'm not sure if those are exactly the right words for what I've been thinking about.

He mentioned a book called The Spirituality of Imperfection, by Ernest Kurtz; I was intrigued, and went straight to my computer when I got home to look it up on Amazon.

To quote his quotes from the book: "Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for those who have been there." And: "A spirituality of imperfection suggests that the first prayer is a scream, a cry for help."

What I've been thinking myself on the subject of religion and spirituality is that religion is about taking words and forms and beliefs that come to you from some source outside of yourself and using them to express our common attitudes toward God: praise, thanksgiving, penitence, and so forth. Spirituality, on the other hand, is about looking deep within yourself, to the place where you meet God without putting anybody else's interface in between, and where you may hear God speaking to you, if you listen carefully. In my little construct, religion is about an attitude toward God, while spirituality is about an encounter with God. One of the things that finally led me to leave the Episcopal church I had been attending for over a year was that I couldn't seem to find enough opportunities there to take that further step toward God. I do also know many Catholics who seem more religous than spiritual, but I suppose one good thing about worshiping under the big tent of your typically much larger Catholic congregation is that among all those people you're likely to find a variety of ways of expressing the impulse toward God, and thus more likely to find one that suits.

But I'm not sure about that second quote from the book. For me, this encounter begins with the acknowledgement that I am nothing without God, in whom it has been said that we live and move and have our being; that God's love is the grounding of my reality. Does that equal a cry for help? It may be related, but I'm not sure it's precisely the same.

Whereas I came home thinking that I would certainly try to find a copy this book, after I'd read a little more about it I wasn't so sure. The review Amazon quotes says, "The aim of this book is to explain the underlying spiritual--although not necessarily religious--principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. Part 1 presents the emphasis of this spirituality, which is the recognition and especially the acceptance of humans as imperfect beings. Part 2 tells how the founders of AA put spirituality to use. Part 3 discusses the benefits: release, gratitude, humility, tolerance, and forgiveness." I may put it on my list, but not at the top.

I haven't been to an Episcopal church for a while, since a couple of weeks before the trip to Iceland, and this time fell right into one of the booby traps that open up for me in the places where Episcopal and Catholic words and practice diverge. I'm usually pretty careful about those things, and at communion time I managed to get my hands right on top of left in the Episcopal fashion, but at the next stop I blurted out my Amen right after the words The blood of Christ, without waiting for the cup of salvation, clearly startling the minister of the cup. Alas, sometimes it isn't easy to keep all this external stuff straight and still be spiritual (or maybe it just isn't possible to keep the Catholic in me from prevailing).


At 2:37 PM, Blogger Moneybags said...

I agree with what you said. A fellow blogger went to a talk by Fr. Benedict Groeschel recently. He hosts Sunday Night Live on EWTN. Have you listened to him? I think he's wonderful. He's a Franciscan with a degree in Psychology. He's very smart. I'm so glad he's doing well. He actually almost died. Doctors said he was saved by a miracle.

The blogger wrote:

"Religion and Faith are two different things, he [Fr. Groeschel] said. Religion should always be an outward expression of faith--one which we are not afraid to show. Religion without faith can be seen in extremist movements, including some extremist Catholics who are so attached to some forms of religious expression but are void of charity and true ecumensim."

I love the Catholic faith because there are so many ways to express our faith. We have the Rosary, Divine Mercy, the intercession of saints, Eucharistic adoration, Processions, coronations, and so many other things. There isn't just one road to sainthood. St. Therese achieved it through the "little things" in life done with great love. St. Benedict founded monasteries. Numerous saints have died for the faith. St. Joan of Arc led an army.

There are so many different ways to express our spirituality and faith through the Catholic Church. But above all, we remain united in the Church as part of the One Body of Christ.


At 2:51 PM, Blogger antonia said...

But Jesus Himself waits for you in your local Catholic Church!
His heart bleeds in pain when you choose a man for his words, over the gift of His very body and blood which He offers you at Mass.


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