Words change over time. Two words that have gone through a metamorphosis over the past few decades are religion and spirituality. Thirty years ago most people would’ve considered these words synonymous, but that’s not so today. Historian Robert Fuller writes, “The word ‘spiritual’ gradually came to be associated with a private realm of thoughts and experience, while the word ‘religious’ came to be connected with a public realm of membership in religious institutions, participation in formal ritual and adherence to official denominational doctrines.”
For an increasing number of people these two words have emotional connotations. Numerous recent surveys have indicated that many consider spirituality to be a positive term while religion is often viewed as negative. While religion is associated with structure, organizations, rules, order, authority and dogma, spirituality is judged to be more authentic on a personal level. Words frequently connected with spirituality are experience, openness, searching, prayer, meditation, energy and inner life.
Polls in the United States indicate that 30% of adults consider themselves them “spiritual but not religious”. In Canada, the estimate is that 40% of adults refer to themselves by this phrase. A couple of decades ago the “spiritual but not religious” category would have rated in single digits. Of course, many don’t desire to be put in either category. Newsweek reported on a Princeton survey which found that 48% claimed to be both religious and spiritual. Either way, this indicates a big shift, as ‘spirituality’ is the word an increasing number of people feel comfortable to use to describe themselves.
Religion has taken a beating since the turn of the millennium. Issues like the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal, endless debate about same sex marriage and the religious right taking center stage in the Unites States have all served to draw people away from religious institutions. Ironically the only glimmer of hope was after the September 11 attack in 2001. For a few weeks there were glowing reports of church pews being filled and a new interest in religion, but it was short-lived, and within a few months everything was back to normal.
Those of us who have been associated with church for most of our lives feel a certain sentimentality or sadness when we hear about our culture’s declining respect for the church, and we are easily discouraged when we hear reports and statistics like the ones I have noted.
Maybe, things are not as bad as they seem. Whatever the cultural trends, ultimately people were created to be loved by God, and the human craving for this unique divine love will eventually take over. Maybe our society is on the right track looking for ‘inner life’ spirituality instead of putting the focus on adherence to an institution. This could be the time for a new awakening where people discover their spirituality.
Jesus said that the God who loves people wants to relate to us on the basis of “spirit” and “truth”. Deep calls to deep; spirit to spirit. What is spirituality all about if not exploring and experiencing truth? When I say truth, I don’t mean merely the facts and circumstances of life. Facts are certainly real as experienced by our five senses, but truth is different. While a miracle can erase a negative fact, most facts are with us for a lifetime. Whatever happened, be it abuse, divorce, bankruptcy, failure, a dysfunctional home situation or painful relationships, these are facts that are not erased.
Truth however is not the same as facts. It is an ultimate reality that prevails over any fact. Truth puts us in touch with thoughts and ways that are higher than ours – God’s. This ultimate transcendent reality is what the Bible calls “truth”. Truth is never a denial of facts; it is not mind over matter. Truth is personified in Jesus, who said “I am the truth”.
So what’s the connection between discovering our spirituality and discovering Jesus? The idea behind what the Bible calls ‘Gospel’ is that we identify ourselves with Christ. His peace, righteousness and faith become ours. We see ourselves in Him. If spirituality is about experience, openness and development of our inner life, then consider the opportunity to discover your spirituality by discovering Jesus. You could end up discovering more good about yourself than you ever imagined.