My mother (who was very Episcopalian) and my wife (who had been steeped in the Unitarian way) and I were sitting around the den discussing something about church. The topic I forget, but is irrelevant anyway. My father sat quietly listening. At one point my wife asked my father something about what we were discussing, but ended her question by saying: “I guess it doesn’t matter since you aren’t spiritual anyway.” My father’s response was immediate. He said, in a somewhat annoyed tone, “Wait a minute. Just because I don’t go to church does not mean that I’m not spiritual. Why do you think I go out on my boat?”
For me, this was HUGE. It was the first time I understood that there was a difference between being religious and being spiritual. Religion is adopted from the outside. Spirituality is born within. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they are not necessary partners for one another either. Religion is doctrine which, if we pursue it diligently enough might bring us to a spiritual place. Spirituality is the understanding that there is something greater than we are, whether it be nature, or the earth we stand on, or the universe we live within, or whatever. But spirituality can be reached through many means—through personal doctrine, you might say—such as art, or music, or sailing, or dancing, or hiking, or meditation, among many other possibilities. Spirituality is about making that connection with what we accept as greater than we are, by whatever means.
Now I’m not knocking religion. I just want others to understand that, as I do, though they may shun religious doctrine, this does not exclude them from the likelihood that they are spiritual. And why is this important? Because the more of that us understand that we are connected to something greater than we are, the more of us can also understand that we are all connected by this same thread of desire for love and interconnectedness, that we are all headed to the same mountain top by different paths, and that the more we pull together as a community, the better off we will all be. We need that more than ever in this fracturing world.