Spiritual but not religious?

I hear this quite often: “I’m spiritual but not religious.” When I first started hearing this a few years back, it took me by surprise, for I’ve always found the two — being spiritual and being religious — to be bound together. For me, being spiritual is the feeling of connection you get when you’re “flowing” with life and an understanding of the Divine (call it God, Nature, Spirit, etc.). Being religious, for me, is grounded in the root meaning of the word “religion” which is “to bind together.” Being religious includes all the practices that help me connect to that which sustains my life, including being in a community of like-minded individuals, intellectual stimulation, and spiritual practice.

I understand the sentiment “spiritual but not religious” better and better as I talk to people about what they mean by it. I’m finding in those words a hunger for connection and meaning-making without other trappings of religious life they have experienced, which may include hypocrisy and judgement as well as burdensome commitments without apparent purpose.

The challenge is this: It is difficult to grow spiritually without other people’s encouragement, wisdom, and presence. There are a few enlightened yogis who may be able to grow spiritually by sitting alone in a cave, but for the rest of us, we need each other’s energy.

That’s why a healthy spiritual practice includes three components: individual work, small group participation, and periodic in-depth work.  The beginning of a new year is a good time to review the features of a spiritual life, or a life of spiritual practice. Everyone needs a spiritual practice!

Let’s take meditation, for example. A good meditation practice includes a few minutes a day of individual work, a weekly session with others, and an annual period of getting away to study and reflect at a retreat or conference. This “formula” works for a variety of practices, including yoga, contemplative prayer, or labyrinth walking. Many pagan practices have individual, group, and in-depth experiences built into the liturgical calendar of observances. I know quite a few UUs who engage in deep reading practices of a favorite author that includes daily readings, book discussion groups, and an annual conference to go deep.

What all these have in common is the combination of individual work and opportunities to connect with others.

As you move into this new year, consider the practices that feed your soul. There are many opportunities at the Unitarian Church of Evanston: from Thursday night Insight meditation to Tuesday and Saturday Zen practice; from our budding Pagan group to the many covenant groups. Each Sunday morning a group gathers to share yoga together. There are so many ways to practice, and forming a new group only takes your interest and the interest of a few others.

On January 23rd, starting at 9am, the Thursday evening meditation group is sponsoring a special opportunity for in-depth practice as they welcome Santikaro who will lead a “day of mindfulness.” Whether you’re starting a new meditation practice, continuing an existing one, or re-igniting the fire of a past practice, please feel welcome to join me for a day of practice at UCE.

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