Spiritual but not Religious?

October 11, 2020

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it! ~ Genesis 28:16

As a minister it is always interesting when I meet new people. We share general pleasantries and then at some point the person will ask me, “What do you do?”

“Oh, I’m a minister,” I will respond.

Sometimes there’s dead silence. Sometimes a person will apologize for saying a cuss word in my presence. And I say, “I’m a minister not a judge.” Some people talk about how much they love God and how often they go to church. My favorite response of all though is when people say, “I’m spiritual but I’m not religious.”

What does it mean to be a spiritual person? Can we be spiritual and religious? What images come into your mind when you think about a spiritual person?

For me, a spiritual person is mystical, holy, other worldly, and wise. Jesus, Paul, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama are all very spiritual beings. They see the world differently and are more at peace within themselves and with people. And yes, I know many beautiful, spiritual people who go to church every Sunday.

Wayne Teasdale, in his book “The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality,” writes that “each great religion has a similar origin: the spiritual awakening of its founders to God, the divine, the absolute, boundless awareness.” Jesus has an inner realization of his intimate relationship with his Father who is also our Father. “The Father and I are one,” (John 10:30) says Jesus and then He goes on to say, “May we all be one,” (see John 17:20). Spirituality promotes the unity of the entire human family which inspires radical love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The wolf shall live with the lamb because we are all one (see Isaiah 11:6) and there will no longer be Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female because we are all one in Christ (see Galatians 3:28). Spirituality is a vision of wholeness, oneness, and inner and outer peace.

As Michael sang to us last week, “Surrounded by your Presence, what will my heart do, will I sing for you Jesus, or in awe of You be still. I can only imagine.” Spirituality fills us with awe and wonder, and we know we are deeply, deeply loved and so is the rest of creation.

“Everything stems from mysticism, or a primary religious experience,” says Teasdale. “We need religion, yet we need direct contact with the divine or ultimate mystery.” Healthy religion and churches help carry the story of God’s grace but “they must not be allowed to choke out the breath of the Spirit which breathes where it will,” writes Teasdale. Rolheiser writes with joy, “Spirituality keeps us glued together.”

When, if ever, have we had a spiritual experience? Holding a newborn baby. Walking through a forest carpeted with yellow, gold, and orange leaves. The sound of waves crashing against the shore. A soft summer breeze coming through our window at night. A kiss. A child’s laugh. A heartfelt cry. Holding a loved one passing away. “The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw — and knew I saw — all things in God and God in all things,” wrote German Christian mystic Mechtild Magdeburg.

When do we experience the spiritual? The divine?

In Genesis 22, Jacob is fleeing for his life and when he can walk no more, he lays down to sleep. During the night he has a vivid dream of a ladder reaching from heaven to earth. Angels of God are ascending and descending the ladder like ants. Then God appears and tells Jacob, “Remember, I am with you. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Jacob woke while God’s breath was still stirring the air, although he saw nothing out of the ordinary around him, same rocks, same sand.” Yet, everything had changed within him. “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” Jacob said. He names the place of his dream Bethel which means the House of God.

Spirituality is about waking up to the presence of God. As we become more spiritually mature, we discover that God, Christ, or the Divine is everywhere, and we sing with Jacob, “Surely Divine love, joy, and peace are in this place and I did not know it!”

May we encounter God’s image in all places and in all people.
May we wake up to the Divine presence.
May we experience Christ within us.

Blessings and Peace,


Exercise: Look at someone or something deeply and see if you can see God’s image or the Divine.