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Spiritual and religious

By Scott Baker

Not too many years ago, I heard about a Pew research study that cited many more Americans are identifying as “spiritual but not religious.” When I first heard this, I was perplexed. Having been raised in the church and considering myself very much a spiritual person I couldn’t understand how one could separate the two. The report went on to clarify the respondents’ comments.

What they were saying was that they affirmed the soulful or mystical aspects of life but that they shunned organized religion. They recognized that there was at least a spiritual, meaning non-physical aspect of life, but that organized, human institutional religion was not for them. And, after the last 20 years with all the clergy abuse scandals rampant within the church, who could blame them? The church and her leaders have done the antithesis of religion, what one of my favorite authors, Brian McLaren calls De-ligion. Religion comes from the Latin liger, where we get our word ligament as in “to bring together.”

De-ligion does the opposite and tears apart or separates. If ever there was a day to reclaim what it means to be not only spiritual but religious as well, it is Pentecost. On Pentecost we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that unites people from all walks of life into the fellowship of the Holy Trinity. Yet God chooses to use a vehicle through which to do this glorious activity — namely, the church which Paul calls the Body of Christ.

St. Paul exhorts each of his churches that he established and calls on them to rely on the Holy Spirit to bind them one to another so that they can collectively witness to Jesus Christ. Another thing that is so vitally important about not only the spiritual gifts lists he gives to the church in Galatia, but also to the Corinthian and the Romans, is that they are all centered on a crucial fulcrum — relationships.

And that’s the rub. When people identify as “spiritual but not religious” what they are doing is robbing the spiritual of what it means to be spiritual, which means to be in relationship. And this, perhaps might be one of the greatest gift the church has to offer to a world who says that it is spiritual but not religious. We offer the Re-ligion, the re-uniting. Or perhaps I should say, through us, God offers such a gift. Even in this time of social distancing, which almost sounds like the antithesis of relationship, we can reach out to those who are longing for connection.

There will be a time, and I think it will be very shortly, that we will re-gather as a church community. We will come out of our homes and be together once again. There will be a time of post-quarantine and isolation and we will claim once again the power of what it means to be spiritual and religious in a whole new way. God calls us to be open to the Spirit’s work in our lives, to join each other in witnessing to the world and show that to be truly spiritual means to be religious.

THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 562-4542.