Spiritual but not religious

Spiritual but not religious

This is a phrase that we are commonly seeing in our virtual world.  Friends may use it on their Facebook profiles.  Individuals on online dating sites may use it in lieu of identifying a particular religion.  Today in the mail, I received a letter and a plea for support from the Lutheran chapel at one of my alma maters.  According to the letter, “the growing sociological categories among young people of ‘spiritual but not religious’ or even more poignant ‘none’ shows the urgency of our mission’ (from letter).  The Lutheran ministry is on a mission for more young people to have discipleship among faith-filled students and to proclaim God’s unconditional love to those who do not yet know Christ.

This letter has me thinking about why someone might identify as “spiritual but not religious.”  This lack of affiliation with a formal institution has me wondering about the subsequent loss in social capital that occurs because of decline in church attendance.

I personally have no problem with the label of “spiritual but not religious.”  For me, it means that I believe in God or a power that is higher than me but I choose not to entangle myself into the man-made institutions that is church.  Church with its rules and pews full of judging eyes is a construct of man.  Churches that are exclusionary are not filled with agape love.  For me, I can see God in a sunset, in the bloom of a flower, in the eyes of another man.  I recently bought a t-shirt with the saying “If you can’t see God in all, you can’t see God at all.”  Maybe my choice of “spiritual but not religious” atones me of any feelings of sin when I choose to drive to the beach or go to yoga instead of go to church.

But this letter from the Lutheran Campus ministry has me thinking.  In this age of virtual connections, so many of us are feeling disconnected.  We may have 500 friends on Facebook, yet we don’t have the time or the courage to pick up the phone to connect with our actual friends.  We don’t have a gathering people where are guaranteed to run into members of our community.  On the one hand, the idea of “spiritual but not religious” might solve problems that we have with man-made institutions claiming religiosity, but at the same time this label is establishing our perpetuity of isolation.  There may be alternatives to church.  Again for me that is what the Universal Unitarians are offering.  No offense to the UUs, but I call that group “the not church church.” I don’t say that lightly or judgingly.  I mean it in a very matter of fact way.  The UUs offer a space and a chance for fellowship, but (again for me) there is no unifying spirituality.  So while the UUs offer a forum for social justice, they did not offer me a space to worship God with likeminded individuals.

My yoga community perhaps is another space that has become a sanctuary of sorts.  The problem here
though is while there is a lot of spirituality in a yoga practice, it is up to each individual to define what that means.  For me the yoga studio is about the search for the higher Self and God only from my own vantage point.  There is not an opportunity for fellowship specifically around this notion of spirituality.  There may be statements like “we are one” or “surrender into Samadhi,” but this practice is taken up on each individual’s mat.  We are all on a personal journey.  While I have forged many good friendships with fellow practitioners, I don’t find yoga to be a substitution for the type of fellowship that a weekly church like gathering can cultivate.  People are often squeezing in yoga practices instead of going to “yoga church.”

I am inclined to agree with the Lutheran campus ministry.  We are in fact in crisis.  While this label of “spiritual, but not religious” may in fact more adequately represent the sentiments of young people, we are losing out on a chance for weekly fellowship and social connection.  We need to think about the benefits of church not because pastors and priests are the only way to know God, but because we are missing out on the chance to connect with fellow man and realize that we are one.  We are connected.  We know each other’s struggles, and yet rather than judge, we reach out and support each other through faith and through fellowship. 

The letter from the Lutheran campus ministry has very much resonated with me.  The question remains now though, what are we going to do about it?

My Gratitude List

We can be thankful in each and every moment, but often times we get too busy.  We forget sometimes that it is the little things that we should be the most grateful for.  Here is the beginning of my list:

  1. I am thankful for my family. I love my siblings and am thankful for the fact that they have children.  I love being an aunt.
  2. I am thankful for my job and the opportunity to teach.
  3. I am thankful for my yoga practice and my home studio.  We are a unique group of individuals who are a continual reminder that we are one no matter where we are in our journey.
  4. I am grateful for my able body.    I sometimes get down because of issues in my right side body, but I have a body that works and for that I am grateful.
  5.  I am so thankful for the work that I have done to recognize emotions and not feel overwhelmed by them.  Emotions are only emotions.  It is how we use them that can be productive or counterproductive.
  6. I am grateful for the opportunity to love.  Often times I get caught up in the fact that I am not married yet nor do I have children, but there is a love that is greater than one relationship.  To love with no end is to tap into a much greater source.
  7. I am grateful for friends near and far, old and new. 
  8. I have so much gratitude for those opportunities to connect again with cherished friends after some time apart.  Those conversations that feel as if no time has passed and yet we both understand that we have changed and grown are a reminder of how great these relationships are.
  9. I am thankful for those times of change that became the catalyst for growth.
  10. I am grateful for opportunities to reflect.  This is where growth really begins.
  11. I am thankful that we can have opportunities to connect whether it be through Facebook, blogs, telephone calls, or old-fashion letter.
  12. As my friend Lisa says, I am grateful for mail that is not a bill.  See #11 re: the old fashion letter.
  13. I am grateful that I know how to cook.  Now, I need to get my grandmother to teach me how to can.  I would also like her recipe for blackberry dumplings.
  14. I am grateful for the memory of my grandmother’s blackberry patch.  To have the ability to close my eyes and eat a blackberry and have that experience take me back 20 years is special.
  15. I am grateful for all my teachers past, present, and future. 
  16. I am grateful for so much more, and each and every day I can add to the list.

Wonderful world of imagination

I truly have mixed feelings about all things Disney. I live in Orlando so I understand the importance of Disney to our local economy. I’ve been to the parks, and beyond the plastic, I see the artistry at work.

I have had friends who’ve railed against this world of made-up princesses and casts of heteronormativity. The feeble princess who needs to be rescued by the strong prince is a theme that one can take only for so long. Sorry Cinderella and Snow White, it is nothing personal. I know the long history of racial bias in this magical world. I’ve seen the hidden images inside the cartoons. I, too, should loathe all things Disney. And, admittedly I have a tumultuous relationship with this wonderful world.

Except tonight, a soft spot was struck.

My soon to be 5-year old niece was telling me about her experience on the Disney cruise last week. She said, “Aunt Tracy, they were really real. No, really they weren’t pretend.” She told me about Belle and Ariel and Minnie. She informed me that Rapunzel was otherwise entangled and couldn’t make it on this cruise. She was so excited.

They were really real.

As much as I loathe the stereotypes that Disney creates, what if a child is inspired. What if these imaginary characters can be really real. What if a child chooses to believe that the imaginary can come to life. Will they dream bigger? Will they strive for more.

May all things that we can dream up be really real.

Mixing meditation and Christianity

I lead meditation at a local yoga studio. We have decided to start having meditation and book discussion series. The first one, as I have blogged about previously, centered on a book called The Untethered Soul. This time I have chosen a book by Joel Osteen’s titled, It’s Your Time. I am very excited by the book. I think that it complements this idea of being in the moment and not turning back or getting lost in negative thoughts.

I must admit though that I am having a moment of panic. What if no one turns up? What if those who find meditation appealing find a book rooted in Christianity unappealing? Maybe I should have thought about markets. Maybe I should have gauged the audience. Maybe I should have…maybe I should have…maybe I should have…

I share my panic with you, because I, too, am very much human. I have thoughts and feelings that may not always be productive. I think I need a take my own moment and activate my faith here.

May you find that moment and take a leap of faith in whatever direction you need to go as well.

Namaste.

Grace, love, and hope

Aside

Yesterday, I got a strong urge to go to church.  I couldn’t explain it, and I didn’t want to ignore it.  I ended up going to one of those mega-churches here in Florida, Northland.  I got rerouted by police as I made the journey. At one point I thought about turning round. Once I made it to the church, it was a little overwhelming navigating the parking lot and entering the building.  I wasn’t sure where the sanctuary was even though right in front of my nose was the entrance. I made it though…twenty minutes early.

This particular service was unique, and they warned us new visitors that it would be atypical.

The pastor gave a sermon about being invited to join. He told a story about not having enough money to pay for dinner one evening and wondering what he was going to do. He equated the opportunity for baptism to be more like when everything has been Pre-paid. And, while I don’t disagreed with his analogy, I had a different experience.

I did not go up for a dunking. I have been baptized as a young adult. I made the choice; it was not made for me, or maybe it was.

Today’s service was a reminder about renewal, faith, and hope. It was a reminder of our oneness, both with each other and with God. For me, as each individual, and I am guessing there were about one hundred people being baptized, stepped into the water and vowed to follow Christ, I was watching them take the fall into grace. And it was affirmation for me to remain steadfast in grace, love, and hope. Through faith, strength is there.

While I think we all have our individual path to God, today’s service was a great reminder. Stand steady in faith and let love shine out from not only the heart but every pore of our consciousness.

For love is the greatest gift of them all.

Be a yogi

med
I have had a lot on my mind lately especially regarding relationships. You cannot really have a relationship in your mind, yet many of us do. You can draw out what-ifs and act out all the scenes, but it is always in your mind. It is not tangible. It is not in front of you. Maybe you don’t do this, but I definitely do. I anticipate what my mother is going to say to me, and then I already have my next move made. I think many of us do this. We have these imaginary relationships or conversations with our mothers, our significant others, our friends, our bosses, our enemies. We are either living in the past or creating a future that really never does come to fruition.

I know that some of you are sitting there going but if I say “x” to my mother, I know her response. I know it because I, too, think it. You only know it because you have conditioned each other. You have fallen into a familiar pattern. You know when she will escalate, and you know what will make her retreat.

I have had all sorts of opportunities this past month to do things differently with friends and with strangers. With one particular stranger who was giving a lecture, I just got up and left. Rather than sitting there unhappy, I made a different choice. In many ways, it is easier to break patterns with strangers because it is easy to acknowledge that they have triggered something from your past. With loved ones though, it is “comforting to live in the mind and play that game of cat and mouse.” It is only comforting because it is that which your mind knows to be true.

I have repeated to myself over and over again, “Just be a yogi.”

What do I mean when I say just be a yogi?

I don’t mean check out or pull away. The lotus flower doesn’t touch the water because it is not going to be pulled under or drowned out. It still needs the water, however.

Don’t go and pretzel your legs and find the classical mudra with forefinger and thumb touching and believe that will make you a yogi.

Sure, you may need to sit in meditation in order to be a yogi. Why? It is all contained in this one sutra:

YOGAS CITTA VRTTI NIRODHAH

Don’t ask me to pronounce that. It translates into English as “the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga.”

When I tell myself to be a yogi, I am not just telling myself to get on my mat. When I say be a yogi, I am telling myself to quiet the mind. My mind can alter reality in a million different ways, but all of those modifications are not real. They are imaginary; they are in my mind. Yet those modifications can feel real. They can elicit some really strong emotions. They cause tears. But all of that mind-stuff is not real. It is in an alternative reality in your head.

I do need to practice yoga and sit in meditation to be a yogi, because I am so human that some days I create all sorts of scenarios in my head. When we are yogis, we are open to each and every moment that is in front of us, not the situation in our head. Sometimes we need to come to the mat to sweep away all the modifications that our minds have made to our reality.
Restraining your mind from playing out the scenario (modification) whether it be the perfect fight, the perfect kiss, the perfect whatever that is yoga.

Quiet the mind.
Be present.
Be a yogi.

Notes of positive affirmations

Go quickly. Grab a dry erase marker. If you are a teacher, you probably have one in your bag. If not any box store will have them. Make sure it is a dry erase marker though before you follow the rest of my advice.

Now dash to the bathroom mirror. I am so excited. I can’t believe that I haven’t thought of this before.

Now write yourself messages on the mirror.

I have a big mirror so a few that I put up there.

“You are closer than you think.” –from Joel Osteen
Have faith.
Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu

Write whatever messages you need to see in the morning.
Keep them positive.
Put something up that will make you smile.

Maybe even leave a love note.

Maybe you leave them up for a few days.

Maybe at the end of every night, you write something new and inspiring for the next morning.

Peace, love, and namaste