My relationship to religion and spirituality has developed out of something like a 30 year wrestling match—a wrestling match with an angel trained in Jiu-Jitsu.
And it seems like nothing has come easy. I was raised in an irreligious home (though my extended family was Mormon) by a single parent mother who basically lived the popular motto, “I’m spiritual, not religious.”
My mom had been wounded by “organized religion”, as she called it, and was forever at odds with any sort of structured spirituality. Thus was I taught, thus did I imitate. Or if you prefer more scientific terms: monkey see, monkey do.
I carried on our only family religious tradition of not being religious for roughly 20 years of my wrestling match.
And I found that using this phrase—I’m spiritual, not religious—accomplished two very important things: (1) I could maintain my undeniable spiritual yearnings, while (2) satisfying the cultural demand to despise religion; since, of course, it is fashionably understood as the root of all evil. It made for the perfect escape from a cognitive dissonance breakdown.
What I didn’t realize up to that point was that the divide between the spiritual and religious is a linguistic ruse, a modern invention birthed from the religious confusion of the previous century. I eventually realized that my spirituality was 100% religious. I did not subscribe to any mainline Christian denomination or any other world religion but I was religious to the core.
For the last 30 years I have spent the majority of my free-time reading all the philosophy, history, theology, and psychology I could get my hands on, earning degrees in some of them, and traveling as far around the planet as my money, time, and terrible grasp of French and Spanish would take me. I’ve spent countless hours taking long walks in the park, hiking in the desert, fasting in the woods, and jogging every beach I could find from California to Morocco, and Spain to South Africa (if you really want to hear God, jog a beach) all in a great hunt to quell that gnawing feeling of dislocation from the source and meaning of my life.
This journey has taken me high and low in search of the elusive Yggdrasil tree where the Runes of Wisdom appear to faithful travelers. And if one takes the simple and succinct definition of religion as “the relationship man establishes between himself and the infinite” (Leo Tolstoy), then the whole course of this journey is itself a deeply religious act.
Once one understands the depth of interplay between the finite and infinite within, this definition says it all. I look around me I notice that every person I have ever met is also on this journey, if even unwittingly.
I learned that being religious is not a matter of the sheer quantity of ritualistic acts one performs, nor the volume of approved dogma and doctrine one believes, nor a passing grade on a check list of metaphysical propositions, but the simple act of attempting to relate oneself to the infinite, regardless of what one imagines the “infinite” to be. This act is neither scientific nor philosophic. It is purely religious.
All people everywhere concern themselves with at least two fundamental questions by which they attempt to satisfy this relationship with the infinite: (1) what is the meaning of life? and (2) how should I live?
These are not flighty, spiritual conundrums thought up by tree-huggers while chasing unicorns. They are universal concerns of humanity and have the power to shape each individual’s existence. The moment I began deciding these questions for myself mental boundary lines governing what I would and would not do, what I would and would not believe, began to spontaneously appear in my psyche, and by extension of will they became reality. In short, what flowed out of me was my very own man-made, organized religion in which I was both high priest and congregant.
Thank God the story didn’t end there. I eventually found Orthodox Church and was initiated into a relationship with the Infinite far beyond any self-informed religious kingdom, but that’s another story.
Thanks for reading!