Human beings are spiritual beings. As far back as we can trace the roots of human consciousness, we find that a spiritual awareness has been an essential element in the human experience. In every time and place, we find traces of an awareness of something greater than ourselves.
This “something greater” evokes feelings of awe, of wonder, of humility, of ecstasy, of devotion, of surrender or submission – not as a captive but in recognition that our personal consciousness is but a fragmentary projection of a much greater wholeness. To facilitate a more constant appreciation and connection with that “something greater,” humans developed collective activities – ceremonies, rituals, invocations, offerings – that organized and empowered the inclusion of that greater power and presence into every aspect of daily living. As one Sufi shaykh put it, “Finally, the only sin is forgetfulness.” Spiritual activities were designed to keep people mindful that they are immersed within and intimately involved with a power much greater than themselves. And thus religion was born to sustain and strengthen that spiritual intuition. Religious scholar Anis Obeid, in his book The Druze & Their Faith in Tawhid, makes two comments that ring true for me.
“There is no era of human history that is devoid of religion and no society that has not included religion in its fabric.”
“Broad concepts and values may be shared by most religions and are frequently expressed in the collective conscience of group affiliation and identity, but the human relationship with God in its essence remains private, intimate, and highly personal.”
The origins of spiritual awareness are found in these “private, intimate, and highly personal ”experiences of individuals. Inspired, awakened, aflame with ecstasy, they vibrate with such a purely spiritual resonance that those about them cannot help but resonate in response. Anyone can have a direct and personal experience of spiritual truth or beauty or divine love spontaneously. Lifted beyond themselves, for a moment or an hour, they find themselves elevated in mind, body and soul into a realm previously hidden from their knowledge or understanding. Thus transported, everything changes. Human life is now understood as a subset of that “something greater.” The challenge then is how to sustain that realization, those exalted feelings and intuitions, that they might illuminate each day of life.
Obeid further comments on the creation of religion:
“…organized religion…is built upon a relational connection among individuals with similar visions, beliefs, values and rituals who hold a sense of shared destiny.”
“…a synergistic relationship between the transcendental connection of an individual with a higher power – a connection on a purely spiritual plane – and the group connection among individuals who congregate around a shared vision.”
Rituals or practices are created to support, strengthen and deepen that spiritual knowing – and when the power of joining with others in collective acts of worship and remembrance is discovered, religion is born.
However, religions also have a life cycle – and progress from the inspiration and spiritually authentic realizations and experiences of one person (the “man”), to a message, to a movement, to a monument. Once the “monument” stage is reached, the organization focuses most of its energies on its own perpetuation. The aspect of a private, intimate and highly personal relationship with a Divine Presence is buried in hierarchy, authority, politics, policies and procedures – and the connection is lost. Quite naturally, people begin to turn away from such an ossified institution, and to seek ways to re-establish what they intuitively sense to be true – that it is possible to invite, to become available to, that direct and personal connection to the spiritual dimension within each of us and within life itself. This rejection of outmoded religious forms invariably leads to a renewal of the spiritual impulse, a seeking for meaning and purpose in life, for deep values, for all that connects, elevates, inspires and brings wholeness. We are participating in one of those periodic renewals right now, with the emergence of the SBNR awareness.
So “spiritual but not religious” means to me that a new spiritual awakening is beginning. We are seeking direct experiences that connect us to that “something greater” than ourselves. We are rejecting religions that seem to have evolved into lifelessness. We want to come alive in the Spirit, to live consciously within the embrace of that Divine Presence, to have that private and deeply intimate relationship that will transform us as human beings and invite us into a life truly worth living.