We have been focusing on the topic of religion in my sociology class in the recent weeks. So, needless to say, I have had a lot of thoughts for topics I should write about here on my blog. Spirituality is one of them. The difference between spirituality and religion is something I didn’t really understand until we talked about it in class, so perhaps reading some of my thoughts on the differences will help you to understand or give you something to simply tuck away into your subconscious. Whatever you do with my written thoughts, I hope they are helpful in evaluating your own spiritual and/or religious life. I felt very enlightened about my own prayer life upon leaving the conversation in class, so I hope you get a tiny piece of that same feeling.
Religion is difficult. Being Catholic especially is hard. On top of the ridicule from non-religious people, Catholics are also faced with ridicule from non-Catholic Christians. It is a problem purely based on ignorance and bias, but a problem nonetheless. I have heard many horror stories about people that converted out of the Catholic faith purely to make practicing their Christian beliefs easier. I have also heard of a lot of members refusing to identify as Catholic in person – for fear of ridicule from any non-Catholic persons. I am not personally this way. I love talking about and standing up for my faith. But not everyone is me. Some people just don’t want to face that on a daily basis. I get it. I have found myself in a few situations that made me angry and resentful of others because of how much I felt they didn’t know, but it did not affect me in the way it affects others. It made me angry in a way that made me want to better the situation rather than avoid it completely. There isn’t anything wrong with backing down; I completely understand the thought-process and the feeling that a person in these situations must feel. It just impacts our personal faith in different ways.
Keeping the faith is a decision we must all make. And many, without even realizing it is a decision, fall into a more spiritual life rather than a religious one. Religion is identified as a very physical institution. We see people attend church. We see people at the coffee social after service. We see them wear crosses and crucifixes around their necks. I see rosary beads slip through the fingers of old women on park benches. I see the statues and the candles and the kneelers. All of these things represent how we see religion in daily life, so I can understand why some people would abandon the institution of religion – or choose to not approach it to begin with. The decision to be spiritual rather than religious is to decide to focus on your individual self. To speak to God privately and not in the pews. To think about the Bible on your own time in your own home. To watch TV mass instead of sit next to the crying baby on Sunday morning. Spirituality is to decide the institution is not what religion actually is. It is to live purely for the personal religion. Not to necessarily denounce the institution, but to decide that it isn’t actually required for a religious life. That is spirituality.
I identify as both spiritual and religious. I spend time in my room thinking and praying. I prefer to keep my thoughts about the church slightly anonymous by posting to this blog rather than sharing in youth group on Sundays. I am a very intrinsically motivated to keep my faith, but I am also enriched by the social institution of religion. I enjoy mass on Saturday night/Sunday morning. I like to sit next to other Catholics and eat breakfast while talking about what book we are reading. I wear bracelets with with words “faith” and “pray” written on them for the world to see. I leave my rosary out where others can see it. I am buying a sticker for my laptop so that people will know I am Catholic when they pass me in the library. It think being spiritual or religious has a lot to do with personality. Like a strictly spiritual person, I believe my real faith is when I am alone. When I am interacting with God based on my own thoughts without anyone else ridiculing or cheering me on. Like a religious person, I show my faith in all sorts of ways physically. I like that and I like to express myself. I think you can be one or the other, but you can also be both. It isn’t bad to be one or the other, but I can’t see my life being lived without both. It is my personal combination of how to live my faith. You just have to find yours.
Maybe you watch TV mass, but wear your crucifix to the grocery store. Or perhaps you go to Bible study, but keep your thoughts to yourself and simply listen. The combinations for expressing your faith are endless. I know that Catholics are required to got to mass. We have to participate in all of these sacraments, but there is no rule that says you can’t do it in your own way. I find it so interesting the way I see different personalities living our different combinations of spiritual and religious practices. I love that I will only every truly know my own practice – because the depth of faith runs so deep. I find it really interesting – but that’s just who I am. Opinions?