Incorporating religion and spirituality

For Catholics all around the world, the season of Lent is in full swing.

For many Catholics, such as myself, this is a highly anticipated time of the liturgical calendar. Not surprisingly, Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season, is one of the most highly attended Masses of the year.

Getting marked with a cross of ashes on one’s forehead is indeed a powerful symbol.

Aside from being a reminder of our own mortality, the cross exposes its wearer as a Christian for all to see.

Why would someone subject him or herself to this kind of open scrutiny?

I have found that oftentimes people react negatively towards those who express this level of comfort and satisfaction with organized religion. It is not to say that these people are even unequivocally nonbelievers. In fact, it seems that many of today’s believers are following a trend that emphasizes personal spirituality and abhors organized religion.

It seems to me that these two forces ought to be united rather than polarized.

In defense of organized religion, it first must be accepted that the goals of most organized religions are admirable.

For example, according to Brian Zinnbauer in “The Emerging Meanings of Religiousness and Spirituality: Problems and Prospects,” the goals of religion can be both personal and social. Individuals may choose organized religion to find the meaning in life or achieve peace of mind while others may aspire to forge bonds with like-minded individuals or become involved in a community. To achieve these ends, many choose to adhere to prescribed plans for spiritual growth, such as participation in church rituals like Ash Wednesday, for example.

This is not to say that organized religion, like any human institution, is perfect.

Any knowledgeable Catholic, for example, is well aware of the missteps of their church from the Spanish Inquisition of 1478 to the more recent sex scandals that have plagued the modern Catholic Church.

But in its purest form, organized religion is simply a means to hone personal spirituality.

Why then, do so many individuals that consider themselves spiritual recoil at the idea of organized religion?

According to Zinnbauer, spirituality is focused on searching for what is sacred in life, and this is ironically religion’s primary goal.

Moreover, leaders in spirituality aren’t always perfect either. So-called spiritual gurus often utilize their charisma to take advantage of the vulnerable. Guru James Arthur Ray was recently arrested and charged with manslaughter in regards to the sweat lodge deaths in Sedona, Ariz. last year.

Members of organized religion cannot be satisfied with going through the motions of weekly church services just as spiritualists cannot claim to be sufficiently successful in their faith journey without putting that faith into action.

According to Luke Timothy Johnson in “Keeping Spirituality Sane,” religious individuals ought to explore their faith and spirituality outside of their everyday practice. This can include reading of religion texts, meditation, and other forms. Likewise, those who prefer a more personal approach to spirituality ought to take care not to become a part of the “pandemic avoidance of community commitment in our world” for, according to Johnson, human experience is meant to teach us.

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