There was a very popular WordPress blog posting a week or two ago, in which the blogger wrote about his dislike for the phrase “I’m spiritual, not religious”. I was intrigued by his post and the discourse that followed. Since the death of my husband, one of the many struggles I have had, has been with “faith” and my beliefs. I did not grow up with religion, but I have always felt spiritually connected to “something”. I remember using the same phrase years ago; it was a good way to describe myself. I am not sure I would use it now, but I was a little taken aback by the many vehement attitudes against it. The last sentence pretty much sums up the blogger’s opinion,
“It is perhaps one of the emptiest phrases ever developed in the English language.”
And one commenter, (who labels himself as a conservative Christian) said this:
“I have found that pretty much anyone and everyone who claims to be spiritual – but not religious – usually says that specifically against Christianity. I’ve also found that if they do claim to be a Christian, but spiritual – not religious – their knowledge and walk is about the same as a wet dishrag on a sandy beach. It’s mostly for show, and as you point out, pride. I think they’re largely blind to their own ignorance. As for clearly non Christians who claim to be spiritual and not religious, they’re not just wet rags on a beach; they’re like a windsock, poorly tied during a windstorm. A little bit of Buddha, a little bit of Tao, a little bit of this, and a little bit of Gaia, etc. to the point that I can only pity them in their delusions of “piety and wisdom”.”
Wow. In a post where the author claims that he doesn’t “like the broad and confused stroke with which this phrase paints religion”, some of the responders use the same brush to paint all non-believers as pious, ignorant and delusional. After reading this comment and the many others, I could feel my heart racing. I wanted to participate in the discussion, but I felt complete panic at the thought of strangers coming to my blog and attacking anything I might say about my beliefs…especially in my currently “unstable state of spiritual faith”.
I’ll be honest, I have no perspective on how I come across here…tough, weak, opinionated, confused? I am still in survival mode, where reactions are my only actions, and writing seems to be helping me deal with grief. But I can tell you how I feel. Completely vulnerable and weak. I ain’t in a fightin’ stance, I don’t have a fightin’ chance in a debate about what is and isn’t spirituality. I have already been knocked out by the debate going on within myself, and am staring up from the ring through the dazed concussion of grief.
This blog is my place in the woods, the wild woods, where I can gather things like moss, twigs, and build a delicate shrine. A shrine that might only go noticed by a watchful or curious hiker, something man-made, but soft enough to blend back in to nature. Or, perhaps never to get noticed at all. And in these woods, I can also rage. Running and screaming, hurling rocks, punching trees, because no man, or woman, will hear it. Unless they happen to venture into the storm. The birds and beasts, witness to my human behavior. Sending their alarm call to each other in a language I don’t know, beautiful backing vocals that complement my lone voice, rather than challenge it. I realize not all of the animals out here are Bambi, but I take that risk, to be in this beautiful wild place, in the soft and the hard of it – the heart of it – with the plushy mosses, and the stinging nettles.
My understanding and relationship with my faith and “spirituality” is in great flux. I am trying to keep up, because I want to write about it, but the changes are elusive, like little critters leaving only fleeting paw-prints in the snow…or a large lumbering, dying tree, slowly pulling out its own roots, dirt, clay and all, a shift so gradual it can’t be noticed. But I am learning…
All the debates, the labels, the hard quick jabs about religion, and beliefs, the who is right and who is wrong and heaven forbid you are an “atheist”….a “non-believer” who obviously has no soul…or – someone who *does* believe in God – come on people! When the shit hits the fan, none of that stuff matters. My faith has been stripped down to brass tacks, the more I try to define it, with words or labels, the more it eludes me, slippery like a fish that belongs in water, not in words.
Faith is deeply, deeply personal. It doesn’t come from the mind, it’s not a rational decision, to follow this or believe that. It’s a heart response, from our most vulnerable place, the place of uncertainty and awe that every single one of us has. Though our individual quests to “understand” – our texts, travels, rituals and dogmas – might diverge, we are in this place together. Some of us sit here with certainty, and some of us are quivering in our boots.
Yeah, one could describe my spirituality like “a windsock poorly tied during a windstorm”…but why kick sand in my face as I struggle? Especially when we all know there is no certainty in this life. When the time comes that a person’s faith is really put to the test, that faith might be the first casualty of the blade. Even someone with solid religious beliefs might get cut loose, and battered in the storm.
It doesn’t matter to me what someone believes, when they are cut to the quick, the last thing I would ever wish, is for them to lose their faith, be it in God, Gaia or the great abyss. Nor would I tell them their religion is stupid, or that they are ignorant to believe in a God, or that their “spirituality”, because it is not defined as a religion, has no meaning whatsoever.
True faith does not throw punches.
It is soft-spoken, quiet, floating like a million paper-thin butterflies, we are in this place together, sometimes touching wings…but always, inevitably, vulnerable to the wind.