You’ve probably heard people say “I’m spiritual but not religious.” The currency of this phrase is more and more common and if you asked any two people who said it what they meant by it you might get three answers. I found the following very interesting in a new book edited by Colleen M. Griffith and Thomas H. Groome, Catholic Spiritual Practices.
“Walk across any college campus these days and you are likely to hear some version of the comment, ‘I’m spiritual, but not religious.’ The utterance usually suggests more than unfamiliarity with one’s religious tradition of origin. It points often to dissatisfaction with a particular expression of a religious institution. Sometimes its signals a perception of a religion as anemic and staid, as being more concerned with right beliefs than with life-orienting practices.”
“Claims for being ‘spiritual’ but ‘not religious’ deserve probing. Without doubt, religious institutions, ever human, need to engage in more substantive dialogue, self-critique, renewal, and reform. And yes, more attention must be placed on spiritual practices as central to the ‘content’ of the faith handed down. But one can’t afford to view spirituality as a substitute for religion.”
“A spirituality that is disconnected from religious tradition is bereft of both community and history; it has no recourse to the benefits of a larger body of discourse and practice, and it lacks accountability. Such spirituality quickly becomes privatized and rootless, something directly opposite to the Christian understanding of ‘life in the Spirit.” (2-3)
This article was written by Colleen Griffith and I think she’s right. But I would like to add one point to what she says. I see an increasing interest among Protestants to adopt certain practices into their own personal spiritual formation. The trouble is that when some practices are uprooted from their liturgical tradition it loses some of its meaning. When the practices are used for the simple purpose of concocting a personal revival devoid of the larger community it seems contrived and lonely. It would be like decorating a house for a birthday party complete with balloons, cake, noise makers, a Piñata and singing happy birthday without any guests. The practices lose their meaning because they were designed to be used in a community celebrating a specific event. You can do it, but it’s not the same thing.
Catholic Spiritual Practices is from Paraclete Press. It is a hardcover with 176 pages and sells for $18.99.