Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Faith Works 4-9

Faith Works 4-9-11

Jeff Gill


Religious, But Not Very Spiritual



Spirituality is a word that won't get you thrown out of too many respectable establishments.


Cultivating a sense of the spiritual is a welcome topic even among the largely secular and unchurched, whether through exercise classes or martial arts or even spending your money to join a "ghost hunt" which is largely sitting around past midnight in a darkened, unfinished room with a digital thermometer and audio recorder.


"I consider myself spiritual, not religious" is a cliché which can be counted on to travel well in many circles, where it won't even be called cliché . . . more like conventional wisdom.


That's how all the cool kids feel, right?


This is the big weekend for the "Church of the Great Outdoors" and the "I Meet God on the Golf Course" denomination thereof, where the High Mass is held at its Vaticanesque enclave of Augusta, Georgia. The Memorial may be a source of civic pride in central Ohio, but ah, The Masters (there should probably be a copyright circle-c there, but the commercialism takes away from the spiritual cachet, don't you think?).


The Masters draws in even agnostics & atheists like me, for the sweet bird song in the background of the broadcast (never mind that CBS piped in augmentation in previous years; they promise they've stopped); the gentle arc of the bridge over some point on the course named for some saint or significant figure in the history of private golf clubs, framed by early spring flowering trees, and the steady, vibrant greens of the stage the drama acts out upon – it's quite a display.


You may not golf, but you get a feeling out of watching it play out; Jan Fink does a marvelous job of giving you a Newark-eye view of being in the middle of the ceremonies and circumstances, and I always eagerly read his tales, having never golfed a round in my life.


Is this an example of "spiritual, not religious"? Likely so, especially when one key imputation of the phrase is "I don't have to go to some gathering of people at set times and days to have a spiritual feeling." That's part of the whole "I can encounter God better at Amen Corner than I do in Sunday services," or "Worship, for me, is being out under the trees…as long as my ball isn't too far under the trees."


To which I always say "don't doubt it for a minute: but do you? Do you pause and thank God for life that day, beauty in that place, a plan for the future beyond the eighteenth hole?"


Some probably do. Most probably mutter curses at heavy dew on their cart seat, let alone louder imprecations when a soaring drive finds a lovely end in that beautiful pond, fringed with picture perfect lily pads. Anyhow.


Speaking purely for myself, I want to admit that, for the most part, I'm someone who is more religious than spiritual. No, that's not a typo. It also feels vaguely like making a public admission of something slightly embarrassing.


I'm religious, not spiritual. The emphasis on spirituality, in my encounters with that priority, ends up placing feeling before thought, and attitudes ahead of action (if action even makes it onto the menu). "Spiritual, not religious" as a stance comes across like a group of people who love to talk about gourmet food, watch programs on how to make it, buy lots of devices and gadgets for cooking at home . . . and who almost exclusively eat meals handed to them through a car window with a handful of change, or in the living room out of tinfoil TV dinner trays.


"Religion" comes from "religare," the Latin for "to bind." Religion is the binding together of community, the drawing together of individuals, the weaving of healing congregations who come together for purposes that cannot be accomplished on one's own. "To bind" not our creativity or to tie down our spirits, but perhaps to stay grounded in what can and must be done, maybe even to "religare" our worst impulses by tying us to models and inspirations which lead us beyond that which would just tie us in knots.


Religion is where we can tie those knots of connection which only really hold well when two (or more) are working together. Many hands, light work, all of that.


There is much about modern life which feels more than a bit unraveled, unraveling ever more, each moment. Some religion, some knotting and tying and re-linking, re-connecting, re-newing, might just be what we need.


I doubt I can get that sitting at home Sunday morning watching The Masters. The Master, though . . .


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; no, he doesn't golf. He has many other flaws, as well. Try to correct them at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

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