14 March 2009

Religious But Not Spiritual

Just got back from shul, synagogue, which I attend as often as I can. So different from the Christian culture of worship, and yet the basis for it as well.

Anyway, I am reading and enjoying the conversation about spiritual things that started on Thursday. Scroll down to the last post to catch up....

... Ok, here's what I am thinking about today. (aside from my sermon tomorrow)

Have we any idea what 'spiritual' means? I hear the word all the time. There are whole bookstores devoted to it (along with sections on 'metaphysics' which never means Aristotle or Whitehead). Near as I can make out, people use the word to mean a sensation or feeling of meaningfulness about who they are and the world at large.

People feel spiritual. People act religious. We like feeling spiritual. We generally do not like people who act religious.

The older I get, however, the more I think feeling spiritual can become almost consumerist. We seek spiritual 'experiences' like we go seek out music or movies that moves us.

I am as prone to this as anyone. My 'spiritual' experiences come mostly from opera and classical music which can send my emotions soaring. Just heard a touching piece by John Adams last night in fact, his "Transmigration of Souls' in memory of the victims of 9/11. Very moving, especially because I was in NYC then and not more than a mile from the pile.

Far more moving to me now are the hours I spend practicing the piano, which I play far less beautifully than a concert performer. Making music is even more affecting than hearing it.

Making music requires work, effort, practice, even discomfort and frustration. It takes discipline and means following rules. It is like religion.

Hearing music is spiritual. Making music is religious. Which means that those who get spiritual feelings need religious people to provide them. See what I mean by consumerist?

No question, the only honest way to be spiritual is to be religious - meaning engaged in a discipline of the mind and heart and body and soul that takes work, effort, and even can be hard and frustrating.

Not just at the piano. Over the years I have attended Jewish services I have learned the songs, the Hebrew words and the melodies, the spoken prayers, the rhythm of the standing and sitting - the making of worship not just the 'attending.' Only when I learned to be a bit religious about it did it become really spiritual.
There's the lesson, I guess - if you really want to be spiritual, you have to be religious about it.


goodwolve said...

That reflects how I am feeling about taking the One Seat and committing to sitting practice. Talking about it, feeling it, reading about it isn't the same as doing it... and doing it takes commitment.

WFW said...

once again, we are thrown back on the moral pitchfork of responsibility... sigh

WFW said...

another thing... i like your site. you seem real good at all those other things listed under 'around the web.' can you explain how they work? i am well over the hill and the pace of adaptation means i am behind the pak here. feel free to email me if you want to respond to this one.

Elisa Winter said...

Is "religious" the hours and hours of time and thought put into creating our UU annual pledge campaign? The planning, strategizing, editing, pencil-biting? I sure hope so. But I don't think so. Is it all the reading and discussing on spiritual issues? Is it attending regularly my beloved Small Group Ministry? Am I spiritual yet? I am compelled to act in these ways and I no longer bother to ask why. It's work but doesn't always seem like work. Feels like I'm doing a job that I'm supposed to do. It's expected of me by ???? (insert small word for big Spirit here). I am grateful to have been shown the tasks at hand.

But when does the spirit hit me and I fall down, or rather rise up? At a U2 concert. Singing the hymns at top volume with 23,000 other middle-aged rockers. Totally blissed out. Paid a huge sum for the privilege, many many times. Can't wait to do it again, as often as possible. Consumerist indeed.

WFW said...

Nailed it, lady. Connecting the dots is what this church and life thing is about. Certainly, success (if that means large numebrs of merry people) comes to those who deliver wonderful experiences. That's why U2 is rich and famous and the Kingston UU church is not. At least U2 is not claiming to be your spiritual leader like the mega churches that provide the rock concert experience and then tell you how to live your life.

Bliss is a sometime thing, friend. I get it now and then, and in odd places as well as the familiar. Between them - like during the down times and in tough places - I have a strong sense of what the world is about and how it works that sustains me and guides me.

It's the times between the bliss where life happens.

Revwilly said...

I consider myself to be a spiritual because God is spirit and being made in God's image means, among other things, that I have the ability to personally relate to God. Are there feelings that at times are a part of that relationship? Yes, but the feelings are not spirituality, they are just feelings, some pleasant and some not.

I don't believe that spirituality is something that is achieved so much as it is nurtured. There are things I do that nurture my relationship with God, but I would not characterize them as being religious anymore than I would characterize nurturing my relationship with me wife as religious.

I agree that many people who attend church are expecting those in charge to create some kind of "spiritual experience" that they can consume resulting in some kind of sensation. The churches that do so can draw great crowds. And if you don't give people what they want or what they believed they have paid for they walk and go to a place with better music, brighter lights and a more dynamic speaker. Consumerism and the mentality that goes with it is counter to everything the Bible teaches about what it means to be Christian or even spiritual for that matter. Enough said as I could go on and on about consumerism.

I'm just a human being the capacity to relate to God who is spirit and that is all that makes me spiritual.

Don Pearson said...

My life is not this steeply sloping hour,
in which you see me hurrying.
Much stands behind me; I stand before it like a tree;
I am only one of my many mouths,
and at that, the one that will be still the soonest.
I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s note wants to climb over-
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.
~ Rilke

orthogirl said...

"Over the years I have attended Jewish services I have learned the songs, the Hebrew words and the melodies, the spoken prayers, the rhythm of the standing and sitting - the making of worship not just the 'attending.' Only when I learned to be a bit religious about it did it become really spiritual."

Your local Orthodox Church would be quite an experience as well. Have you ever been to St. George in downtown Grand Rapids?

WFW said...

You Orthogirl,

Know the place, but do not know when non sunday services are held. Would love to check it out. Suggest something. I believe they use Aramaic, but in Arabic script. The Aramaic I can handle, but Arabic script would be really tough. Thanks for the suggestion.