What’s Your Religion?

“Religion” and “spirituality” are two of my least favorite words, which is inconvenient for a minister. I keep thinking we need a new language to talk about such subjects, but then I think we need a new language for a lot of things.

Kodo Sawaki, a Japanese Zen teacher, noted in his typically blunt style: “Religion is not an idea.” Yet that’s exactly how we generally conceive of it–as a kind of theory of everything, explaining how we got here, what will happen after we die, and how to live between those two points.

Religion suggests a codified set of beliefs handed down through the generations, to be accepted without question (on “faith”). These days in this country, some people prefer the word “spirituality,” which sounds more flexible and open to self-definition. Yet it’s often unclear, even to ourselves, what we mean by this word, what our brand of spirituality is.

Etymologically religion means to tie again: to revivify the bond between the individual and her world (which may include the sense of a divinity, or not). We’re talking about the living, ever present relationship between the self and all things, between this moment and all those before and still to come. Although we often feel we array ourselves against life as if it were a hostile force to be outsmarted, manipulated, or conquered, it’s possible to align ourselves with it instead: to accept the reality of a given situation and try to feel our way toward the best possible outcome–best for the ecology of the situation, not simply for our narrowly defined self-interest.

What spirituality means to me, semantic quibbles notwithstanding, is just this: fully inhabiting all the layers of life in each moment, so the quotidian details of how we live reflect our essential values: clear water to the bottom. Our smallest action matters–not only what we do but how we do it, and perhaps most of all, the secretive why.

This is my religion today. Check back tomorrow…