The difference between religion and spirituality. (Identity, authenticity, action.)

Back when I was a mentor at The Interfaith Seminary, the question came up again and again from the students I was supporting of the difference between religion and spirituality.

For some of them, this was a matter of having rejected religion and embraced spirituality; for others, they were strongly committed to their religious faith and community, and could not imagine separating spirituality out from that.

In an era when mainstream religion appears to be declining, while both spirituality without religion and fundamentalist ‘our way or the highway’ religion appear to be on the increase, this question about the differences and relationship between religion and spirituality is an important one.

As a mentor, in order to help my own understanding and thus better support the students, I came up with two sets of questions:

Am I a good…

Christian?

Muslim?

Jew?

Buddhist?

Taoist?

Student of A Course In Miracles?

Sikh?

Pagan?

Hindu?

For it to make sense to answer ‘yes’ to these questions, one would have to identify as a member of that particular religion, faith or spiritual tradition, and – where necessary – accept its tenets and dogmas.

This is the core issue with religion that I see both in people who reject religion in favour of spirituality, and those who seek to impose their faith and dogma on the whole world:

Group identity and individual authenticity are pitted against one another.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

One of the many things I learned from my training in Interfaith Ministry was that there is a deep well of wisdom and spirituality at the heart of each and every religion, regardless of how it has been practiced by its followers over the centuries, and what has been done in the name of its God(s).

So here is the second set of questions to consider:

In this moment…

Do I love God/the Source of All/the Universe? Do I love and forgive my neighbour and myself? What fruit do I bear?

Am I surrendered to God/the Source of All/the Universe?

How am I expressing my humanity? Do I have a living relationship with God/the Source of All/the Universe?

Do I practice loving-kindness?

Do I allow everything its own nature?

Am I willing to be as God/the Source of All/the Universe created me?

Do my deeds sing a love song to God/the Source of All/the Universe?

Do I relate to humans, animals, plants, minerals and spirit beings with reverence and love?

Am I free of ego-attachment?

Each question or set of questions relates to the equivalent faith in the previous set of questions, but these questions can be answered freely by anyone, regardless of their religious identity.

They are a set of questions not about identity, but about emotion, action, integrity and authenticity.

When we look beyond the identity of a religion or faith group, and instead look to the roots of its spirituality, we see that at the core of each faith there is fruitful wisdom and a challenge to each one of us as human beings.

This does not mean that we can ignore the injustices carried out in the name of religion, but it gives us the tools to challenge the people who carry them out in the terms of what they say they are, and what they claim as the source of their values.

Lessons from my household energy supply, part one: harnessing passion

My partner and I are lucky enough to have our own 2.5kW wind turbine feeding our household electricity supply. It stands there, just 6 metres tall but still magnificent, moving with the wind and providing us with the power to run our computers, heat our water, cook our food. When it produces more than we need, the surplus goes into the national electricity grid; when it produces less than we need, we get the extra we need back from the grid. Since it was set up four years ago, we need do nothing but watch it twirling. It’s a passive system.

Passion and energy

The word ‘passive’ has the same root as the word ‘passion’ – they both come from the Latin verb ‘passio’, meaning to suffer, to allow or to undergo. Passion is something we undergo, something that happens to us, just as the wind happens to the turbine. Also like the wind on the turbine, our passion, when it happens in and to us, can provide us with energy, but we need to use it, to harness it.

When we have power cuts, usually because high winds have caused trees to fall on electric cables some miles up the line from us, our connection to our wind turbine is severed. It is one of the most frustrating experiences I have had, watching our wind turbine spinning around at high speed, producing the equivalent of three times our day’s electricity needs, and none of it reaching us.

Getting cut off from our passions

This is what it’s like when we’re cut off from our passion, when we feel ashamed of it, or embarrassed to show it in public, or when we just forget about it. This might be because we’ve been told from an early age that we can’t make our passion central to our lives or ruin will follow, or because we’ve shared our passion with someone who matters to us and they’ve ridiculed it. It might be because our passion is so close to our hearts, or so big, that it feels too scary and risky to fully connect with it, to allow it to power our lives. It might be that our passion just gets buried under our everyday work and worries, so that it seems a million miles away.

When we’re cut off from our passion, it’s still there, it’s still spinning away – like that wind turbine – but we can’t access that amazing source of energy. Sometimes, we’ve been cut off from our passion so effectively and for so long that the parts of us that are fed by it have shrivelled. Sometimes we’ve been cut off from our passions so effectively and for so long, we don’t even know what those passions are.

Do you know what you’re passionate about? Can you feel the potential of that energy, lying within you?

Passionate about…

I’m passionate about people finding their spiritual path, the practice and community that allows them to feel their place in the Universe, at home in their lives and aligned in their actions. It fills me with joy when I meet someone who has found this, and with awe when I’m able to help someone on their way.

I’m passionate about honouring, including and knowing myself as part of the more-than-human*, all-species tribe* of all beings, whether human, animal, vegetable, mineral, spiritual or elemental. Remembering this life-wide connection and relationship grounds and settles some deep part of me.

I’m passionate about the magic that happens when people come together in love, and consciously dedicate themselves to each another, to their deepest common purpose, and to supporting one another through thick and thin. Every wedding ceremony, every ceremony to accompany a civil partnership, every hand-fasting I’ve conducted has been a sacred monument to joining.

What are you passionate about? How can you allow your passion to energise you? Let’s talk about it.

Related pages: Spiritual path-finding, Weddings and Civil Partnerships, Relationships.

* I first came across both of these phrases in the work of David Abram.

Boundaries, limits and infinity

I’ve been thinking about limits again these past few days, and what it would be like to live joyfully within them. Once again, the Gods of astrology are coming to my aid in working things through.

Money and energy – changeable limits

Money, as I’ve raised before, is Venus’ domain, along with love and beauty. Energy is governed by Mars, the warrior, Venus’ opposite number but also her lover.

Mars and Venus, by Mantegna

With both energy and money, I have to live within my limits. If I don’t, I will eventually become both seriously ill and destitute, stripped of every possibility of sustained relationship (Venus), and of the ability to assert myself in the world (Mars). But the limits on my energy and financial resources are subject to change. I may pay more attention to my diet and exercise, thus increasing my reserves of energy; I may work more, or more effectively, thus increasing my income, or I may simply have a stroke of good luck. Of course, I might also pay less attention, work less or less effectively, or have a stroke of bad luck.

I must live within my present limits of energy and money, if I wish to survive and thrive*, but I can also work to increase those limits – or at the very least, remain vigilant so that they do not shrink.

The fixed boundaries of time and space

Other boundaries though are not so flexible. Time and space, the boundaries governed by Saturn, who to the Ancient Greeks was Kronos, are fixed.

However illusory time may ultimately be, day to day, month to month, year to year, there is only a certain amount of it available to me. Space likewise may be really, really big, the universe as a whole may be expanding, but the space within which I live and move is delimited by three dimensions, and my own scale relative to them.

Saturn

It’s important not to balk too much at these boundaries, nor to disrespect Saturn and his domain. Without these boundaries of space and time the entire human experience as we know it would be impossible. There would be no way for us to know beauty, or love, nothing against which to sharpen our intellect, nor means for us to gain wisdom. The limited space and time that we do have, we should use wisely.

I cannot increase the number of hours in a day, or the number of inches in a mile. But I can increase what I am able to do within the time and space available to me. I can become more efficient, manage myself and my activities better, plan, structure and organise. All of these are under Saturn’s guidance.

But there is a potential trap here, which those of us who want to make ourselves and the world better all too easily fall into. If I become too focused on increasing my wealth and energy, too caught up in planning and structures, I may miss the opportunities to connect, to play, to experience wonder, to create and co-create that present themselves to me in every moment of every day.

Giving time and space to the limitless

'Starry Night' by Jessie Hodge (CC

Just this evening, I had a startling reminder of this. Going out into the garden with the dogs for their night-time stroll, my partner and I looked up and stood transfixed in the dark, eyes wide, staring deep into the Milky Way. No clouds, no moon, no streetlights, just stars, and more stars, and yet more stars. It was a moment of wonder, of joy, of blessing, of gratitude, and of simply being glad to be alive.

Connection, play, wonder and creation, joy, blessing, gratitude and gladness, are part of the aspect of life which has no limits or boundaries, the Ground of Being from which all emerges and to which all returns: the timeless; the infinite.

Finding a way to touch this infinite Ground every day, to connect with this timelessness which is so far beyond us yet forms the fabric of our very existence, provides the context for us to use our energy and money, a reason for us to make the best of the time and space we are given.

Whether we call this Ground of Being by the name God, Goddess, Mother, Father, Creator, Source, Life, the Universe or by any other name isn’t important; what is important is that we call, that we make the attempt to connect, that we open to that which is broader and wider and deeper than our own lives, our own limits, our own boundaries.

Because for those of us who know there is more to life than it seems on the surface, who seek for meaning and purpose, this is where the meaning, the purpose, the more lie.

Related pages: Spiritual path-finding, Marrying Neptune and Saturn: can dreams and limits mix?

* I highly recommend Martin Lewis’ Money Saving Expert website. It’s aimed at UK residents, but has useful tips for anyone wanting to live better within their current means.