Spiritual but Not Religious

A couple of week ends ago I advised friends that I was going off the grid.  For two and a half days I would not be getting voice mails, emails, texts, Facebook messages or tweets.  I rescinded my RSVP to a very posh costume party and disappeared.

I didn’t mean to be mysterious but I had some vague reluctance to tell people I was going to the Manresa Retreat House in Bloomfield Hills for two days of solitude.  A little background.  The Jesuits or more formally the Society of Jesus is an order of Roman Catholic priests and brothers.  They were founded 500 years ago by the soldier-turned-mystic Ignatius Loyola.  Loyola developed his “Spiritual Exercises” which are practiced to this day.

For me one of the most appealing aspects of Jesuit Spirituality is the agreement that everyone takes some time and shuts the fuck up!  Meet someone in the hallway a nod is okay, but no talking. Usually it’s easier not to make eye contact.  In the refectory (that’s Catholic speak for dining room)  the only sound is silverware scraping plates – which is a bit unnerving at first.


Many people have described themselves to me as spiritual but not religious.  I’ve wondered what that means.  It’s easy to understand why people choose not to be religious.  Three reasons immediately come to mind.  Hypocrisy: preachers living lavish lifestyles from the tithes of the congregation.   Injustice: the use of the bible to marginalize, even dehumanize people because of their gender identity or sexual preference. And Abomination: the molestation of children, and in my opinion, the more grievous evil of choosing to protect molesters instead of protecting future victims.

But what does the proclamation that one is spiritual mean? To be spiritual one has to believe in some sort of spirit that transcends us, our experience and our understanding.  Spirituality is the way of living in relationship with this spirit. A very uncomplicated spirituality is the practice of mindfulness.  A few years ago I read “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life”  by Jon Kabat-Zinn who says:

Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.

Mindful living emphasizes intentionality.  We take most things in life for granted.  Mindfulness is the use of meditation to create an intention for awareness of the present and being appreciative of how connected we are in this present to that which is transcendent and larger than us.

I had a few friends for dinner on Halloween night.  When we sat down to eat I was surprised when one guest took the hands of the person on either side of him and immediately everyone joined hands and looked expectantly at me to say grace.  I opted for a brief mindful meditation that went something like this.

As we eat this food let us be mindful of the connection it give us to greater things.  Our food contains the energy of the sun and the nutrients of the earth.  Our food connects us to farmers, farm workers, truckers, factory workers, grocery clerks and cooks.  And it connects us with each other through the fellowship we share at this meal.

How does one say grace without mentioning God? Another thing I like about Jesuit spirituality is that it recognizes that one’s spirituality matures as one progresses through life.  So many people’s beliefs are based on religious instruction that ended when they turned 14.  The Jesuit’s invite us to find God in everything.  The practice of mindfulness is a good start.

I went off of the grid to practice some intense mindfulness.  Sorry, there were no visions or voices or grand life changing “ah-ha” moments.  But I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the past couple of years and create some intentions for the future.

How much solitude do we typically experience day to day?  Not much.  That’s too bad.

I invite you to find 40 minutes in your day and shut the fuck up.

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