This is a tough topic. Soon as you bring it up, if you're passionate about it in any of its forms, you start to feel like a preacher and your audience feels preached to. Of course, religion is the most obvious form of spirituality. Some people are raised in this realm. Others find it at some point in their lives. Some people never do.
Allow me to start with one basic definition of spirituality. Spirituality is a sense that something exists that is bigger than myself and that I'm part of it. Think of it this way: I am walking down the street in my Buffalo Bills sweatshirt and meet another person in similar garb, I'm likely to say: "Go Bills!" And they are likely to respond: "Go Bills!" Don't even know the person and may never see them again. But for that one brief moment, our common fanhood represents something bigger than ourselves; we're part of the legion of millions of Bills fans. (Ok, tens of thousands OK, hundreds... still a big group) I think that's an example that explains that definition of basic spirituality.
Then there are formal groups and organizations; service clubs, youth groups, businesses, etc. Not only is there the common (awesome) experience like being a Bills' fan, there are stronger connections like friendships, common beliefs, and common goals under a larger umbrella. These are higher levels of spirituality.
Some families and best friend relationships are blessed by even stronger connections. Constant feelings of love and support are included. We revel and rejoice in the positive feelings that accompany this level of togetherness. It's spirituality on steroids.
Over the past few months I have been blessed by the experience of worshipping at a number of different churches. It is wonderful and amazing to see how people express their faith through the structure and tradition of their services. I remember Catholic Mass from the fifties. It was in Latin, there would be incense, special rituals, special gestures, all dictated by tradition and led by the Priest. It was very formal and solemn. At the other end of the spectrum are churches that are open to exuberant self-expression. I've visited a couple that include dance, spontaneous prayers, dialog between leaders and congregation, etc.
I was at a national assembly of Lutheran Men in Mission one time and one of the keynote speakers was a black Lutheran pastor. He got a laugh when he said: "You'd be surprised how many people think I'm a Baptist. But I'm so excited about being a Lutheran that sometimes I act like a Baptist!" Later on in his address he made a particular point and said: "Can I get an 'AMEN!'" on that? There should be 'Amens' running all through the place." Now, you can attend a Lutheran church for a lifetime and never hear a spontaneous "AMEN!" shouted from the congregation. But after a while, this great guy had us all doing it; he'd pause, put his hand to his ear, and we'd respond. After that, it was theme for the whole event and we'd yell "AMEN!" and even "AMEN, BROTHER!" While it was always out of the comfort zone for many, it felt very good to me. (Who said spirituality can't be fun?)
Every denomination has its nuances. It's unfortunate when people are convinced they have "THE WAY" to spirituality. Sure, Jesus said: "I am the way, the truth and the light." And He was right. If you're a Christian, you'd better buy into that concept. But as a Christian, I have to remind myself from time to time to avoid "competition" that gives my particular denomination some kind of "edge" over everyone else's. I think God's grace is a huge umbrella and there is room for many expressions of faith under it. And I don't know enough about other religions to even comment on their versions of spirituality.
I envision God with a big ledger with a page for everyone. Someday he'll want to talk to me about my page and when he flips to it he'll look over the form and see "Lutheran" filled in the blank at the top then the list of Lutheran stuff. "Hmmmm, an 11:00 service person like to sleep in a little on Sunday, eh? Bell choir, good, good, music is always good. Lutheran Men in Mission. Ah yes, fellowship, mentoring, service good stuff. Sauerkraut supper, oh, the German Lutheran tradition nice I never liked the stuff myself, but hey."
Then I ask about my old college buddy Ed.. God says: "Let's see, Ed Ed Ed. Oh, here he is. Catholic, altar boy, St. Bonaventure, good, good, loving husband oh yes, I took his beloved wife a little early, that was sad for everyone, I know Raised his kids Catholic Whoa, I forgot about this for a minute He's the one who taught 35 years, then went to seminary and became a Catholic Priest! Yes, Father Ed What a great guy, what a character, great sense of humor he's 3 clouds over on the right, I think, maybe 4..."
"Your father-in-law? Sure, a hard, hard worker a life-long, dedicated, Methodist took his family to church every Sunday ushered was on church council through some difficult times great leader of his congregation yup, that's what a man ought to look like. He's probably making balloon animals for the kids somewhere"
Then the big question: "So, God, what expression of spirituality is best, after all?" The answer, a big belly laugh and a wave-off: "You already know the answer it's all good!"
I think the bottom line isn't whether your particular "brand" of spirituality is best, it's all about whether you're doing your best with it. Each year, there's a surge of spirituality at Lent. I think what we need to do is ride that wave as far into the year as we can. The connections, the "thing bigger than myself," religion, all have tremendous value. Let's become aware of how we're all connected to so many things and so many people in so many ways.
And as for the Bills Wait 'til next year!
Gary Lester, M.S., R.T.C., is the executive director of Family Services of Warren County. Go to www.fswc.org to subscribe to its new Family Services Parenting E-news-a free, once-monthly dose of inspiration and tips to promote the health and well-being of your family.