Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Losing My Religion? Spirituality vs Religion

Is spirituality a frame of mind?
This blog post is one I have wanted to write for some time. I have been reading, researching, discussing and reflecting about this question of: what is spirituality and how is it different from religion? We've heard the lines before, "Oh she's so spiritual" and "he's really religious." But what do people mean when they say that? What does it mean to be so spiritual or really religious? I've always thought of myself more spiritual than religious. For me, converting from a Baptist to a Catholic was not a choice I made because I felt Catholicism was a better religion, it was more about how the Catholic religion made me feel, the connection between the teachings and how they moved me. We all are on our own journey to improving ourselves as we look into our souls searching for that inner inspiration. I often think, it is spirituality which inspires me or my religion?

I, by no means am an expert on this subject. Rather, I am a humble friend sharing some insightful information to perhaps help you on your spiritual journey.  Last week, I sat down with my priest to discuss spirituality. Father Pat Rush, who is the pastor at Visitation Parish.  Visitation Parish is known for it's faith formation programs, open door reputation in the community and commitment to support those who want to grow and be of service to others. He shared that people of different faiths can feel a different spiritual experience. Is that based on faith or just interests and experiences? What creates this feeling? It’s different for everyone. In a society where people are questioning their feelings more, it is very timely topic.

Georgetown University discusses the big debate regarding spirituality vs religion.

Spirituality defined:
a quality that goes beyond religious affiliation, that strives for inspiration, reverence, awe, meaning and purpose, even in those who do not believe in God. The spiritual dimension tries to be in harmony with the universe, strives for answers about the infinite, and comes essentially into focus in times of emotional stress, physical (and mental) illness, loss, bereavement and death” (Murray and Zentner 1989:259)

“…the search for transcendent meaning” – can be expressed in religious practice or …expressed ”exclusively in their relationship to nature, music, the arts, a set of philosophical beliefs, or relationships with friends and family” (Astrow et al. 2001).

Religion defined:
“an organized system of practices and beliefs in which people engage … a platform for the expression of spirituality…” (Mohr 2006).

religious beliefs – “formed within the context of practices and rituals shared by a group to provide a framework for connectedness to God” (Davies, Brenner, Orloff, Sumner, and Worden 2002).

Here's what I've got for ya:

The Big Debate: 
Much debate surrounds the definition of both terms. As Anandarajah and Hight (2001) explain, “spirituality encompasses such realms as the cognitive or philosophic, the experiential and emotional, and the behavioral”. The wide spectrum of spirituality and religion along with a lack of clarity and agreement on definitions further complicates efforts to clearly define both terms. They further discuss that “sometimes both terms are used interchangeably;  some see religion as the manifestation of ones spirituality, yet a person can be spiritual without being religious.” Basically, a  person can also be outwardly “religious” in performing certain actions, and yet not focus on the underlying principles of spirituality.

Wake Up: 
Spirituality vs religion... how are they different? Father Rush shared there are spiritual awakenings that happen to us whether we are in church or not. However, we need community experiences, socializing an individual to be a spiritual person into society, which we receive from being part of a church.  Our vision that our community provides is God given. Religion can give us a sense of direction and an opportunity to feel spiritual. People who decide not to be a part of a religious organization still tend to be a disciples of someone’s vision. But there are other experiences which can be spiritual for us for a variety of reasons. Perhaps yoga, nature, meditating, drugs, extreme sports, or just being alone is spiritual for you.
 We can feel something during church, maybe it’s the socializing with other members, maybe the music, maybe the message being taught. It’s different for everyone. 

It's About You:

One point Father Rush made was we all go through phases. There are times in our lives, our relationships, our careers and work where we are completely connected to our feelings and positive beliefs about what we are doing. There are times in our lives when we may be disconnected, and that is just life. What brings us back to our faith? He explained there are memories we hold which bring us back to being connected with our faith, our religious beliefs. The Bible discusses in many passages about the "desert experience." This refers to a time where one feels disconnected, walking through a empty wide space. These desert experiences make the connected times feel more real.  They give us a high when we get back to where we need to be, perhaps a more spiritual meaning to how feel towards our faith or relationship.

Should you follow your spirituality, or your religious beliefs? There is an expectation of faithfulness to the church teachings. However, it’s not a bad thing when you go through periods of feeling disconnected.  Mother Teresa shocked the world in her autobiography when she discussed how she went through a period where she did not feel God. The goal is to get through those days and it will come back based on the positive experiences you have had prior. The memories will bring you back and can actually make you stronger in your faith.

Whatever you feel or seek to feel, take time to reflect on your life, your beliefs and what makes you happy. You can have a spiritual awakening without losing your religion.

R.E.M. sings about it...


Anandarajah, G. and Hight, E. (2001). Spirituality and Medical Practice: Using the HOPE Questions as a Practical Tool for Spiritual AssessmentAmerican Family Physician. 63:81-89.

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