How Can I Be Spiritual without Following Organized Religion?

Let’s start with what “spirituality” essentially is. Spirituality is a growing intimacy with God experienced through the people, events, places, and things in each day’s living. And how will that happen? Through what you see, hear, taste, touch, smell. We are embodied spirits, and the doorways to our hearts and minds are our senses.

In other words, spirituality is not abstract and ethereal or airy-fairy. It’s grounded and rooted in the concrete realities of life and expressed through ritual acts. We need ritual. It’s the way we express the inexpressible. And who are the experts in ritual actions that express that for which we have no words? The religions of the world! They have developed ritual actions over the centuries that have helped people find meaning in mystery, that have given people a way to communicate with the Divine. And, not surprisingly, these ritual actions involve things like words (say, of forgiveness) to hear, bread you can taste, water you can feel being poured on your head or oil rubbed on your skin. Sound familiar? The sacraments in the Catholic Church are the ritual actions by which we communicate with God.

Neither is spirituality a solitary journey. Why? Because we are social beings. We need one another. We find our happiness and fulfillment in personal relationships. That’s why, for example, people are called to come together every Sunday: to strengthen each other in their faith in God. To offer one another assurance that “you’re not alone on this journey.” Trying to live the Gospel is hard. One can become easily discouraged and throw in the towel. But the good news is that we don’t have to try to do it alone. There’s a whole community of people coming together each week to offer each other both challenge to keep going when you want to give up and comfort when you’re feeling hurt or lonely.

I know there are a lot of people out there who like to say “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.” My response to that is this: If your spirituality is healthy, it will be anchored in and nurtured by an organized religion with a long track record of ritual actions in community whereby seekers of God support each other in deepening their intimacy with God experienced through the people, events, places, and things in each day’s living.