Spiritual But Not Religious But Not Spiritual

The Pray Channel invites you to join us in dredging, brush-clearing, and talking through spiritual disconnect.

The place seemed holy, where one might hope to see God. After dark, when the camp was at rest, I groped my way back to the altar boulder and passed the night on it, above the water, beneath the leaves and stars, everything still more impressive than by day, the fall seen dimly white, singing Nature’s old love song with solemn enthusiasm, while the stars peering through the leaf-roof seemed to join in the white water’s song. Precious night, precious day to abide in me forever. Thanks be to God for this immortal gift.
-John Muir

When John Muir went a-roaming through canyons, valleys, and jagged peaks, he saw the Lord of Hosts. Those hosts – those staid armies of evergreens and cavalier antelopes, those thrush-warbled battle hymns and granite battlements – they weigh on me as well, but with less distinguishment. I love those same expanses and I feel an overcoming mystery. But I have never been able to say, in those moments, that I feel God.

This comes from a believer in “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” I nod approvingly when seekers find meaning, especially Christian meaning, in nature. Yet in the frank honesty of my heart, I cannot quite make the full connection between my deep feelings in the forest and my stated positions. I want to.

The phrase, “spiritual but not religious,” has been around for a while. It seems lately to have more traction, perhaps, and the legions of religious always come out to meet it, overwhelmingly. As far as arguments go, the religious are not to be underestimated.

But I am sympathetic to spiritual-but-not-religious. Some trumpet the phrase as a creed, as an intentional replacement for church. But just as credal atheism distracts from the really unsettling experience of doubt, so I think these proponents are straw men behind whom stand the real men and women who know that the heart has depths.

We do not merely have a religious crisis, in which there is an insufficient number of communicants. We also have a spiritual crisis – when our spirits do not know how to connect to our religions. I submit this is true both within and outside the churches.

Our modes of spiritual expression are largely supplied through mass media, and they therefore feel false. Spirit is in human nature, so this is a problem. Many of the philosophers and most of the religions have insisted that we must be spirit or something like it. If spirit is our nature, then spirituality is a faculty. I believe spirituality has its ends and goals, just like hungering and desiring and maturing, but it is sometimes necessary simply to underline the fact that we are spiritual. Some people use spirituality simply to escape religion, but most of us are just being silently sapped of a real, active, understandable soul.

We are, then, in danger of being spiritual but not religious but not spiritual.

The Pray Channel at Humane Pursuits attempts to be a forum for the spiritual, those who pray but know not yet how to pray, those who seek the renewal of their own spirits by understanding what they are. In short, for those who have a soul or would like to have one. We do not avoid specific beliefs or reject institutional commitments – and we will not fail to discuss some of them – but we are also convinced that the work is more than dogmatic.

I invite you to read with us, to comment, to ponder. Send us an email if you’d like to add to the conversation, or if you just have something to tell us.

God, help us in this task, and open us to you.

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