Thoughts on Spirituality
and Following the Way of Jesus

What is spirituality?
What is the difference between spirituality and religion?

Spirituality is personal; it is the feelings, faith, attitudes of reverence, compassion and hope that are connected to an awareness of the sacred. Spirituality does not usually include institutions of brick and stone, nor various types of religious professionals. Spirituality does not aim at controlling other people or organizations, or financial resources. Spirituality is like being in love, or appreciating art.

Religion includes institutions that are organized, funded, and that often have a variety of types of religious professionals -- priests, theologians, monks, nuns, bishops, presidents of various institutions, and administrators. Like all major human institutions, large amounts of time, energy and money are required to support and administer these institutions.

Obviously, there is a great deal of overlap between the categories of spirituality and religion. A bishop kneeling in private prayer within the cathedral that he (or she in some parts of the Christian church) serves is exercising his personal spirituality, even as he holds a formal position and title within an organized religious institution. His prayer perhaps concerns his own walk with God, matters of his soul, adoration of God, as well as financial and administrative concerns of the institution of which he or she is apart.

Still spirituality and religion are distinct and different. The bishop knows when he leaves his private prayer time, and starts to attend to his official duties as bishop. If the bishop were your brother, you might ask him, "As my brother not as the bishop, how do you draw closer to God?" Now you've asked him a personal question about his spiritual practice. It is not the official answer of the organized church that you want, but his personal report of what he does. You've asked about his spirituality, not about his religion.

Another way to see the difference between religion as organized and institutional, and spirituality as personal is to do a little experiment in thought. Suppose you were kidnapped, put in a plane and pushed out with a parachute over an uninhabited island. The faith, prayers and reverence toward God that you still have when your feet touch the ground that is your spirituality. Here there is no organized, institutional church. No charities of the church nor of other religious organizations. No alter at which to pray. Still, while the kidnappers have separated you from human society and its institutions, you as an individual have not been robbed of your spirituality and that connection to the sacred.

Will you look into the night sky and wonder at the infinity of God? Will you pray? Will you express your inner faith by making an alter, a cross, or an icon? Will you divide up time and dedicate a part of time for Sabbath rest, or prayers, or private worship? Will you feel kinship to the creatures on that remote island? Will you give thanks to God for the food you find or fish you catch? All of this belongs to spirituality. And you had it all within you as your spirituality.

What You Have Within You is Your Spirituality

It then follows that your spirituality may be quite different from another person worshipping within the same church. You may experience God as blessing and joy. The words and tunes of many songs of faith may fill your heart, even when you are cleaning or working in a shop or factory. The sight of stars and sea and blooming flowers may bring to your mind the sweetest of thoughts about God's goodness. You may feel a common bond with humanity of many different races, classes, countries, and creeds. And as you worship these attitudes of your spirituality will be present with you. You may indeed cherish them as the very heart of your walk with God. Yet, another person in the same church in the same worship service may feel, think, and experience a different spirituality.

Another Person's Spirituality Can Be Different

Yet, within the same church worshipping with you, someone else may be feeling that God cares for us much more than he does for our enemies. We are special to God. And we are morally and spiritually better than they are. He may feel pride of race and clan, creed and nation. All of these thoughts and feelings may have never been expressed in the liturgy, ritual, prayers, sermons, or Scriptures that are part of the public service. Yet, this other worshipper has felt that all of this was a part of the worship service. In summary, you brought your spirituality to the church, and the other worshipper brought his spirituality to the church, also.

The public worship of the organized church on the day that you and the other worship were present may have reflected themes and thoughts of a spirituality that was different from both of you. Indeed, the themes of spirituality of the worship service may have come from traditions of the past and reflect a spirituality that neither of you relate to well, or even fully understand.

My point is spirituality is what you have within you. Yours is likely different from even others within the same church. Indeed, your spirituality today may be quite different from the spirituality you had as a child, or even 5 or 10 years ago.

What about Jesus and Spirituality? Jesus as a guide and the way of Jesus

All of this may seem too subjective, ever changing. So to add structure as well as sacred connection to spirituality, Jesus Christ can be our guide, model and standard.

With this approach we look to Jesus as the standard.

In popular terms, we ask, "What would Jesus do?" Or more thoughtfully, "what does way of Jesus point us toward in our present situation?" Jesus certainly taught compassion and mercy. So in our spirituality we can think and act with compassion and mercy.

On this path of following the way of Jesus, we will care about the specifics of Jesus's teachings and acts. For this we will open to the Bible to the Gospels and read.

The Bible records will not be for us an encyclopedia of answers, like a car repair manual. Instead, we step into the Gospel message as told by the early followers of Jesus. We will need to listen carefully to what they say. But we must also, be on guard that our inclinations and prejudices do not hinder our understanding.

Pride and Laziness As Spoilers of Spirituality

From ancient times the church has warned against two common inclinations that spoil spiritual life and understanding. These two spoilers are: pride and laziness. Pride causes us to prefer only those understandings that lift up our race, nation, or clan as special. Many people today can hardly consider the question, "What is right?," because their pride/arrogance so strongly inclines them toward that which serves their ego.

Laziness inclines us to easy answers, easy tasks, or denies that the task even belongs to us. Someone else should educate the young, feed the hungry, and work for justice.

So laziness has often short circuited the process of spiritual growth.

What does it mean to "Judge not, least you be judged?" And what does it mean to say that the first commandment is to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul, mind and strength, and thy neighbor as thyself?"

Such questions will lead us into deep thought. But will deep thought run counter to our inclinations and prejudices? If we live life within a hurry-up, keep it simple, "what's the bottom line?" mentality, even the prospect of deep thought will appear as a chore that we may seek to avoid.

Beyond the need for deep thought to obtain deep understanding, we will be confronted in Jesus Christ with calls to commitment. "If any one would follow me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me." "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these other things shall be added unto you." In what ways are we living within a faith commitment? Or, in what ways are we moving closer to God and spiritual life?

Jesus Spirituality is about this quest, this movement toward the sacred within our lives.

The Role of Spirituality In Organized Religion

Spirituality is the living element within religion in its organized and institutional forms. Think of a clam. The living clam is a creature within a hard shell. The clam created the shell for its own purposes. But the shell is a mere container or form for the clam. In a similar way spirituality is the living, dynamic within organized religion.

Without spirituality institutional religion tends to fossilize, harden, and reach out to the prejudices of race, clan, and class for vitality and power. With a present tense spirituality, religion in its institutional forms can retain genuine spiritual vitality without the props of prejudice, or inherited wealth, or an assigned place of prestige within a society.

Indeed, the stronger the spirituality the more the institutions can flourish.

Jesus and The Main Facts

The outward facts of the life of Jesus are not the main facts. That Jesus lived within a colony of the ancient Roman Empire is a fact, but not a main fact about Jesus. The main facts about Jesus are spiritual. He was indeed a person of the Spirit. He had a profoundly close daily walk with God. By his spiritual insight he saw what were the key aspects of faith. It was not in rituals performed in the correct way in the correct place.

These rituals of official religion did not equal compassion, mercy, trust in God, or reverence, or prayer.

Jesus, the person moved with compassion to heal is a main fact. Jesus patient with his disciples is another main fact. The mystery of Jesus as the incarnation of God is a main fact. So while a mass of historical details about ancient Judea in the time of the Roman Empire will throw light upon understanding the Gospel accounts of Jesus, these details remain a footnote, a sideshow to the Main Facts About Jesus Christ. The whole of Jesus is a message of God to us. Jesus becomes for us with eyes of faith a window into which we gaze in order to know God.

The main facts about Jesus are spiritual. His outward circumstances did not define who he was in God. And when we figure out that the main facts about our own lives are also spiritual, then we are empowered to move toward God in faith. And it is through spiritual connections of faith, prayer, devotion and service that we assert our God-given spiritual nature. We are living souls.

Spirituality is the assertion that we are spirit creatures that can not be ultimately defined by the conditions and circumstances of our lives. Jesus spirituality is the assertion that Jesus was not defined by the conditions of his time. Jesus was and is defined by the Spirit of God as light and hope and grace. Jesus Spirituality is also our assertion that we are joined in spirit with Jesus Christ and can follow him in devotion, and service.


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