29 March 2010

On Spirituality & Being Episcopalian

reflections of a very non-dogmatic sort

Yesterday, I drove to Oceanside to meet up with a new and good friend, Karen, who lives in San Diego.  I met Karen a few weeks ago on my UN trip and quickly connected with her.  During our conversation over Thai food, Karen said, "You're one of the most spiritual people I know.  I could tell as soon as I met you."

I was dumbfounded.  First of all, I wasn't sure if I had heard her correctly.  Did she really just say that?  And if so, why?  What does it even mean to be a "spiritual" person?

I drove home up the 5 thinking about this and asked J. when I got in.  He said, "It means that you're willing to make everyday decisions that enrich and reward your spirituality."

I pressed him.  How did he define spirituality?  J. answered by saying what it was not, "It's not religion, it's spiritual.  It's private, it's personal, and yet it's not just personal or private.  It's something other than.  It's something more."

I felt where he was going with it even though it was vague.  Spirituality, spirit--it's hard to define or explain in concrete terms.  Half the time, I don't even know what I mean.  But if pressed, I would say that it's a deeply enriching search for meaning and the experience of meaning making, encounters with a deep true self and of the divine that is consistent with reality and relationships with others.

As I've experienced more freedom to choose what I believe, I'm realizing how much I don't believe in the tenants of the Christian faith that I was raised in.  Just the other day during a church service, I was reading the communion liturgy out loud about the body and blood of Christ and I realized, you know what, this whole thing is weird and in fact, I don't buy it!  I just don't, people.  I don't find it necessary to my theology or spirituality to believe that I'm eating the body of Christ in a wafer or his blood from the wine.  Nor do I find it necessary to believe in the Trinity.

Now, if this had happened 12 years ago, I would have freaked out.  I would have wondered if I was evil or if I needed a new religion--because I was taught that I needed to be right.  Being right, having right religion, right thoughts was all the rage.  And still is in many circles.  But I'm over right.  Right is dogma.  And right kills relationship with God.

So this brings me to the next question: Why stay Episcopalian?

I like Episcopalianism because the structure of the liturgy, worship, and rites grounds me.  It provides a house, so to speak, that I can run in and out of but always return to.  And in the Episcopal tradition, it's not about being right.  It's about faith, saying yes to the attraction towards God even in the midst of uncertainty, embracing mystery, and always respecting that every person is on a different journey.

The Episcopal structure of worship allows for this very uncertainty and journeying process.  You read prayers off a page instead of having to come up with your own prayers on the spot during corporate worship (which inevitably makes you bear the burden of needing to say "appropriate" words that are acceptable to everyone--not freeing if that's not where you're at).  You don't have to produce a certain emotion to be considered worshipful.  You just have to show up.  As as you read the words and engage in the bodily actions that are laid out before you, somehow you are freed to be who you are and where you're at and where you're not at.  You don't even have to read the words if you don't want to.  You don't have to believe what you say or don't say.  Nobody is out to get you.  They're all there by faith--some intrinsic hard to describe pull that draws them towards a communal way of reaching towards God.