Ministry has taken me to many interesting places and put me in contact with many interesting people. One phase of ministry especially put me in contact with people who had little or no contact with the church. Two phrases from that period have continued to bounce around in my mind. The first a self-description: Im spiritual, but not religious. The second is a question, What is your spiritual path?
As I have heard people ask the question, I realized the assumption behind it is that everyone is on a spiritual journey. Some recognized the path they were on, others didnt.
The description, Im spiritual but not religious, was a response that some folks gave to the question whether it was asked or only implied. This description has a negative and positive aspect. The negative, not religious, often communicated some disillusionment with institutional religion, in most cases the church or Christianity. I discovered that people had been hurt, physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually by the institution. Sometimes they felt ignored or discounted. Some folks felt they were asked to sacrifice their intellectual integrity to accept a world view that was in contrast to their understanding of science. Sometimes they even used words like hypocritical, judgmental or exclusive to describe the church.
The positive side, Im spiritual, suggested a person was seeking to live the most fulfilling and productive life possible and affirmed the genuine desire to relate to something bigger than the individual self, to experience unity and harmony within and in the universe. Im spiritual often communicated the desire to love and honor creation, the whole ecological system, and to find ones place within it.
Of course, not religious suggested the desire to be free from the limitations of an organized religion so that one could pursue these lofty ideals through a variety of ways, which brings me back to the question, What is your spiritual path?
Whenever someone asked me that question, I answered, My spiritual path is the Jesus way or Im a Christian. I loved the question, the opportunity to answer, and the conversations that followed. For the most part the people who asked the question appreciated my answer and they were willing to share their path.
It was enlightening to me that more often than not, we were seeking the same ends even though we were walking different paths. It was also enlightening to me that I learned much from those on paths different than mine. Im also quite confident that even though my conversation partners didnt necessarily join me on the Jesus path, they learned something from me.
What is your spiritual path by which you seek to find the most fulfilling and productive life?
Bob Flaherty is pastor at Newberg United Methodist Church