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Is spirituality a personal or community endeavour?

In my experience, many people’s understanding of spirituality goes down two paths.
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In my experience, many people’s understanding of spirituality goes down two paths. One view is that ‘religion’ is something which narrows down one’s thinking and constrains people. It goes hand in hand with a view which much of the media seems to have of ‘religious’ people who seem to do very little but disapprove of others, and who are particularly obsessed with people’s moral or sexual lives, hung up on issues of gender and sexual diversity, a judgemental, self-serving thing which causes harm and creates monstrosities such as fundamentalism.

The second viewpoint is that ‘spirituality’ is a sort of self-help practice which just makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s deeply personal and can be pretty much a ‘do it yourself’ buffet of whatever ideas take one’s fancy. A kind of smorgasbord. It doesn’t need to relate to a being called ‘God’ or anything beyond oneself.

I meet people who hold to both viewpoints, sometimes at the same time. Sometimes with a fair amount of anger at their experience of religion.  And there are good reasons for being disenchanted at the structures and institutions of ‘organized religion’ and wanting to develop a way of living and being distinct from these. I come from a family who would describe themselves, if pushed, as something like ‘spiritual but not religious’ and it was my choice in childhood to join a church, then as a young adult to be confirmed and take a full part in the Anglican tradition, later being ordained priest – twenty-five years ago next month!

What I am grateful for, despite all the faults of the ‘institution’ that is Church – and I could say a lot about that, which would be a series of articles in itself – is that I have found a home, a safe space, for exploring spirituality, for discovering the bigger story of a spiritual journey that others have undergone, stretching back to our Jewish forebears, thousands of years ago. It’s a place where I don’t just get to choose what I want from some kind of spirituality buffet but am challenged to confront those attitudes which are less than loving, less than compassionate, less than gracious. I am encouraged to find my place in community, to find my place in a wider understanding of spiritual life than I might see on my own.

For this I am grateful to be in a community which allows me to ask questions, to explore together. I’m grateful to be held accountable for the way I act towards those around me, I am glad to be with a group of people who also want to investigate, also want to ask questions, to learn, to listen, to share, and to grow together.

We don’t always do it well, sometimes we disagree, and we struggle together, but I know that in the end we are all seeking to grow in our love for one another, and our love for God. Even if we have different understanding of what we mean when we talk about ‘God’.

In a world which encourages ‘everyone for themselves,’ I am glad for a community which asks about the impact of what we do and say on one another, the wider world, and the environment. I am glad to have a community which keeps me honest, but which supports and encourages me too. Spirituality, I am convinced, may be a personal endeavour, but is best undertaken with companions – as we remember, ‘it’s not about me, but it is about me’. Or rather, it’s not just about me, it’s about us.

The Ven. Alastair Singh-McCollum is Rector of St. John the Divine Anglican Church in Victoria and Archdeacon, Diocese of Islands and Inlets. He has a passion for the Gospel, motorbikes and bike culture, worship, philosophy, theology, guitars, single malt whisky, real ale, cinema and all things French. You can find Alastair at the church website: www.stjohnthedivine.bc.ca and on his blog: fracme.blogspot.ca

You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE: https://www.timescolonist.com/blogs/spiritually-speaking

* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, May 21st 2022