It happened again. “I’m spiritual, not religious,” she said. I always feel there is a slight (ever-so-slight) disparagement of religion/religiosity from the person making such a statement. Today, I would like to temper that viewpoint and suggest, not only are the two not so far apart – being spiritual and being religious – but that in fact, for me, being religious holds very special meaning.
I often counteract that statement with my own, that I am a religious person. I am a Jew, so for me that means living in covenant not just with God, but with other human beings. So many of our mitzvot (commanded behaviours) are about taking care of each other. Respecting our parents, inviting guests and sharing food, taking care of the sick, caring for our dead by washing and dressing them, helping with weddings – and finding ways to make peace between those in disagreement. We are commanded to share our wealth and share our time, and underlying all of these actions is the command to learn.
This is religion in action. Those spiritual moments that I have been blessed to experience are moments. I cherish their memory, I can hold the awe-full truth of those moments, and I know in my bones that those moments were given to me so that I would go out and do the work in this world that is needed. That I can do.
As a rabbi of Kolot Mayim Reform Temple, I am blessed with a heritage of intellectual searching and reconciliation of text and action, of historical root and present day social necessity.
How can I encourage us all – no matter our faith or not-faith – to hold that those precious glimpses we might call spiritual are not separate from religion. Religion means simply I am being with people – not being alone. The human challenge is to alleviate loneliness, need, despair and hunger – of all kinds. We do this work together. When we gather regularly to sing, or to pray or to share food (pre and post Covid!) we are building that most essential component of being human. We are building community. Getting to know and help each other is being religious.
Humans are complicated beings. But as my husband keeps reminding me, being in community is like being in family. You don’t have to like each other, but you do have to take care of each other. We are all people with inner and outer aspects, spiritual and religious. By bringing these aspects of ourselves together we are truly choosing to live. L’chaim!
Today I heard someone speak about living a life of holiness. For her those words described her religious/spiritual life and enabled her to avoid the conversation that often chooses to separate faith from our everyday lives. But even faith is a challenging word to use. As a rabbi I have been often called upon to officiate at interfaith weddings. The problem is the word ‘interfaith.’ We don’t have a word yet that fills in the blank for ‘not-faith’ marrying traditional practice but hesitant in the faith department. But that discussion is for another time.
Meanwhile, I call myself religious.
Greenhough is rabbi with Victoria’s Jewish Reform community – Kolot Mayim Reform Temple. https://kolotmayimreformtemple.com/Lynn
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE