I have been asked many times to explain the difference between religion and spirituality. So today, I will give it a try.
Most of us long for a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and that Longing typically involves a search for meaning in life. We call that longing for connection spirituality, a universal human experience that touches every person. Spirituality asks its own questions about life and identity, such as:
Am I a good person?
What is this feeling I have deep inside myself?
What does it mean to abide with the Divine?
What is the meaning of my suffering?
What is my connection to the world around me?
Do things happen for a reason?
How can I live my life in the best way possible?
Christina Puchalski, MD, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, says that “spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or the sacred.”
Perhaps the most meaningful explanation of spirituality comes from its root: The word spirituality comes from root words in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek that all mean wind, breath, or air—that which gives life.
In my spiritual quest, I look for the breath that restores my life, the fresh wind of the Spirit that carries me on the wings of the morning, the air that allows me to breathe in the world that surrounds me.
Spirituality and Religion
While spirituality may incorporate elements of religion, it is generally a broader concept. Religion and spirituality are not the same thing, nor are they entirely distinct from one another. The best way to understand this is to think of two overlapping circles like this:
Venn Diagram of Religion and Spirituality
– In spirituality, the questions are: where do I personally find meaning, connection, and value?
– In religion, the questions are: what is true and right?
Where the circles overlap is the individual experience, which affects the way you think, feel, and behave.
Obviously, spirituality is difficult to define. Words do not seem adequate to describe something that is swirling inside every person. It’s a soul thing, and everyone has a unique soul. But, as always, the words of Bishop Steven Charleston offer us the most eloquent description.
I have been thinking about the cycle of spirituality. It is very much like the rain cycle. First we rise up into the clouds, seeking out inspiration, and then we return to earth, entering into the ground of reality to bring forth new life. Spirituality only works when that cycle continues. Too much time in the clouds and we disconnect. We fail to nourish our own world. Too much time on the ground and we wither. We miss finding renewal. Spirituality is a process, a balance, a constant movement between the high winds of wonder and the organic struggle for the birth of hope.