Friday, January 18, 2008

Spirituality Doesn't Always Happen in Church

One of the things I learned in my years of training as a chaplain was the difference between spirituality and religion. Most of us tend to believe that the two are the same thing, but they are not. They can be intertwined, and are for many people, but others have a strong spirituality without ever setting foot in a church.

There are the people who find great peace and contentment while sitting on the bank of a river or lake with a fishing pole in hand. My friend, Mr. Charles, knew that he was nurturing his spirituality as much at the lake as he was at home reading his Bible.

There are the farmers who work the land and can say that they never feel closer to God than when they are out at the break of dawn to see a spectacular sunrise. I can attest to that. Not that I’m such a great farmer, but every morning when I go outside I am overcome with awe and wonder at the beauty created for our enjoyment.

We humans have something that separates us from the rest of the animals. Some people think of it as a soul, others refer to it as a “spirit center.” Whatever we do in our lives that make us feel whole and worthwhile is somehow connected to that spirit center. And this need to feel whole and worthwhile is as vital to our well-being as food and water and the air we breathe.

In my years of working at the hospital, I met many people who found religious practice to be the best way to feed their spirits, but I also met a number of folks who were relieved to find out that God would not strike them down for not going to church. I did, however, encourage them to nurture their spirituality in some way, whether it be through music, art, nature, or relationships with people. And to recognize that through that they were connecting with some power outside themselves, whether they called it God or not.

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