I watched as he pulled into the parking lot in his 1980 something maroon Cadillac sedan. The engine teetered to a stop, almost as if it was saying, “I’m gonna make it, I’m gonna make it.” I waited and watched from across the street. His beaming stare brought forth this cumbrous silence. Who was this man and why was he staring at me through the tinted windows of my workplace? It was as if a silent voice inside was urging me to walk across the street and to approach him.
Nervous about this man’s intentions, yet curious as to his sudden appearance, my feet worked faster than my brain. Within moments, I found myself tapping on the window of his car. Now looking down at his phone, he gave little attention to me.
Perhaps I was assumptive; perhaps it was random and our encounter was unnecessary. In reverence, I jolted backwards, turned around and began to walk away. Brain now caught up with my feet.
“Can I ask you something?” He inquired behind me through the crack of his driver-side window. For some reason I wanted to disappear. Regret filled my head as I turned around to face him, this time locking eyes again, just as we had before, only I had the walls and windows of my office between us. His aged brown skin had shown evidence of years of hard work, failure, success, and, well, years, had complimented his graying, black carefully cut hair.
“Sorry…” I began, “I noticed you pulled in and wanted to see if you needed something…?” My words were drawn out. In retrospect, I cannot say if he had heard them.
“Cars givin me troubles,” he responded casually, eyes searching. And, then, just as intently as his gaze was potent, I noticed it shift to a more softer feel-more like a grandfather look. “You din’t come here jus to ax me that. Hmmm...you a spiritual?”
I stared at him in confusion. Not sure how to respond, I stood there. Awkward.
“Are you a spiritual or are you a religious?” He must have recognized my confusion.
“Ugh...both…?” I mustered. It seemed to be more of a question than an answer though. At 19, I may have looked older than my age but at that time I had taken little thought to my own personal spiritual or religious matters. Aside from hearing my mom’s stories of ghostly encounters and strange events, listening to my older sister tell us about her mediumship experiences, and reading the Bible for my own understanding, I had taken little thought to what it means to BE spiritual or religious, or even how they compare. Truthfully, it wasn’t until much later that I realized that the meeting with this gentleman was far from average, at least for most of us. Wouldn’t you agree?
For now, the rest of the story serves a different purpose. I want to return to the question that he asked me.
“Are you a spiritual, or are you a religious?”
This is a question that I spent much of my 20 somethings trying to discover. I wish I could say that I found a true, definitive answer...however, that would not be 100 percent accurate. You see, at least for me, the lines are blurry and are not always absolute beyond the general meanings.
Spirituality, in essence, is the act of seeking awareness and understanding of the universe, one’s role in the universe, and the connection between them and the...well, the universe. It is personal. Revolutional. Contemplative. Internal.
Religion, however, is based on a structured belief system among it’s group members. It can be viewed as rigid, strict, population control tactics. It is external. Group consciousness. Morality based. Hierarchical.
Looking at the definition alone, there are obvious differences. From an objective perspective, it may be difficult to argue that one could be both. Or could it?
Any Christian may tell you that being a Christian is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, believing in miracles, trusting in something outside themselves, daily gratitude in the form of prayer and worship, and continuous effort to reach such greatness as prescribed in the Bible. They may declare that we have a responsibility to each other in such a way that we must love each other unconditionally, offer forgiveness, help, and encouragement when possible, and we must share in each others’ struggles as we would each others’ successes.
Any yoga master may tell you that being a master is about crafting oneself to be the best version of themself in such a way that they are humbled by the experience of life alone. They find ways for going beyond the physical limitations, to seek psychological, spiritual, and universal understandings and love. They may declare that we are all connected in life and in death, and that there needs to be a balance between nature and humanity.
In reference to my story with this random yet circumstantial encounter with the older gentleman, when I responded “both,” at the time, I didn’t put much thought into it. If he were to ask me to explain myself, I am not sure that I would have been able to. Even now, many may argue that my reasoning is absurd. You may claim that there is a definitive difference between spirituality and religion so much so that you would have to choose one over the other. Some may take the stance that one is better than the other. Others may even reason that neither are necessary. The beauty of this is that none of us are neither correct nor are we wrong-my point here is that spirituality and religion are both personal.
With religion, I understand that there is a divine creator. One that is all-loving, all-encompassing, the Alpha. I know that we, as humans, are collective by nature. We seek structure, connections, and a balanced system of wrong vs. right-how these are enforced becomes more political than personal. With religion, I know that miracles are not natural and they are gifts of love. Humanity itself is flawed so that we are able to learn and improve-as life provides such experiences. Finally, in religion, I am able to have group awareness. My choices impact that of others. I have a role to play in society and I am expected to behave accordingly. I matter because you matter.
With spirituality, I argue that love is the original and underlying condition of humanity. I have learned to love myself, love nature, love others, so much so that I am grateful for this. I know that through deep meditation and introspection, I can learn more about myself and how to serve the universe. I stretch myself physically and mentally. WIth spirituality, I know that the human experience, with all of its failures, selfishness, ego, desires, shortcomings, there is opportunity for growth, freedom, awareness, love, and truth.
Come to think of it, I could argue that the lines between spirituality and religion are blurry for a reason. Religion itself begins from the spiritual teachings of the religious leaders themselves. In my opinion, Jesus is one of the most spiritual individuals to walk this planet, along with the Dali Llama, Muhammed, Buddha, and Mother Teresa.
If you came across this page because you are seeking the same thing I was for years, perhaps you are hoping to define how religion and spirituality play in your life, you may be disappointed to learn that nothing (at least not much) in life is black and white, and our understandings are just as unique as our experiences. I was called to religion for the hope of connecting with a divine protector, unconditional love, and group collectivism. I was called to spirituality for the hope of connecting with myself and the universe, to find the nature of my footprint, and to uncover my own gifts. All in the same, yet very different.
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