Spiritual but Not Religious, Religious but Not Spiritual, and the Christian Church.

The non-religious are now dominant yet survey after survey report that they remain spiritual seekers.  I don’t know what that means but it seems to include a broad range extending from a romantic contemplation of nature to a desire for oneness with an ill defined One.  Even those who deeply dislike “organized religion” are prone to adopt their own rites and rituals toward being spiritual but not religious.  A few scientists and philosophers argue there is no such thing as soul and that spirituality is only a function of biological electrical impulses.  Their credibility crumbles when they can’t get away from knowing that their sense of self, their curiosity about what is real and true, and their own ability to think with deep profundity is somehow not the same as the mere ebb and flow of nerve signals. 
So, what is it that drives humanity to desire spirituality in such a material world? The quest for spirituality cannot be erased because the spiritual is real.  The material and spiritual world co-exist.
Christianity understands the mutual existence of material and spirit in a symbiotic relationship.  Body and soul are not separate things but one integrated whole.  Moreover, it is in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, that is the most clear example for us to follow as embodied souls.  It is through God that we are led to understand that achieving a spiritual life also includes an equally rich material life. A rich material life of intention to follow God’s moral commandments, as understood through the lens of Jesus and the way of love.
We know well how material life can be abused and corrupted.  How we treat our bodies, possessions, relationships and creation is far too often the result of selfishness, greed, lust for power and status, etc. the quest for spirituality can also be abused and corrupted.  It can be ignored and denied.  Romantic notions of becoming one with God undermine the sanctity of materiality.  Expecting nature to be the repository of the spiritual is a chimera.  Spiritual wholeness is approached only through communion with God.  Each of us has an environment in which that is more easily done, but it is not the source. 

Questions more often raised with pastors are about traditions, teachings, rites, rituals, the right bible to read, the right way to pray, and a definitive answer to what scripture means. I’m reminded of students demanding to know how much of the syllabus has to be read, how long papers have to be, and what has to be done to get a good grade with minimum effort.  Pastoral response has to turn the questions around: how are all these things designed to be avenues, conduits to a more full spiritual life anchored in community worship and instruction?  The elements of “organized religion” must the tools or respite, renewal and amendment of life that is the stuff of every day life away from church.  If organized religion has failed to meet the needs of spiritual seekers, it is because it has failed to connect the things of church to spiritual hunger in a way that unifies the material with the spiritual as made known by God through Jesus.
Some churches are so focused on emotional conversion or the singular role of the Spirit that the reality of daily material life is treated as if it were a dirty secret best left outside.  Others so dwell on material well being as to devolve into a blasphemous prosperity gospel.  Some, like my denomination, can get so wrapped up in rites and rituals that they are deemed sufficient.  The most egregious offenders may be churches that measure religious success by attendance and money raised. 
For me it is in the Episcopal Church that spiritual and material are most fully recognized as an integrated whole. The liturgy has the power to move one from secular time and space to holy time and space.  The deepest most intimate communion with God comes in the Holy Eucharist of holy food and drink through which our embodied souls are united, of only briefly, with Christ himself. The Eucharist concludes with the invitation to go in peace to love and serve the Lord in our ordinary secular daily lives.  If worship is not conducted to that end, no elaborate ritual with all the bells and whistles is of much good.  Maybe an enjoyable entertainment but that’s all.  Other denominations have other ways that work for them.
I cannot deny that God may be acting through the faithful of other religions, but I am certain that the ways of God are made known to us by God directly through ‘his’ Word made flesh present to us in Jesus, and not through any intermediary.  Jesus is not a prophet but the fulfillment of all prophecy.  That conviction will not convince or convert anyone by itself but it is the Good News that Christians are compelled to proclaim and live into as best they can.  It is the way in which the spiritual and material find their integrated wholeness. When teaching and practices of the church fail to go in that direction they fail to meet the standards of Christianity, no matter how often lusty alleluias and the name of Jesus are heard in them.  

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