Thursday, February 3, 2011

Spiritual but Not Religious

29 Shvat, 5771
February 3rd, 2011
            I have heard, even in my short career, one phrase hundreds of times, “Rabbi, I am spiritual, not religious.” Many take it even further: religion, in quite a few people’s minds, is the enemy of true spirituality.
            For years I’ve struggled with how to understand and address this division. I got into Torah and then a life of mitzvot because of deep spiritual affinity. I never understood the separation.
            I believe now that I was incorrect, and that religion and spirituality, while they overlap, are divided.
            Spirituality lives in an individual’s direct, personal connection to God. Its foundation is hitlahavut – passion. It is spontaneous, malleable, and paradoxical. It is self-reliant, charismatic, and brilliant. It makes us feel alive.
But spirituality is also self-centered. It tends to ignore bonds between people, and does not know that God’s voice becomes textured when spread over community and time. Though it is smart, it is not wise: it rarely involves a relationship more than a generation old. In a word, spirituality is thin.
Religion, on the other hand, is as thick as it gets. It incorporates generations of learning and has grown wise and thoughtful. Religion is patient in a measure that spans lifetimes, and knows the depth of things. Its foundations are hesed – care and tzedek – justice. Religion helps us understand life.
It is often so thick, however, that it smothers spontaneity and individuality. It struggles to see people as different from one another. Religion does not thrill with its quickness, and prefers rhythm over syncopation.
The two are indeed different.
But remember that the holy Rambam taught us that apex of life is to be found in the middle of extremes. Remember also that each of us has two sides to our hearts. Enough with the idea that they are exclusive: it is a fallacy; we know it not to be so. Let us fill ourselves with both.

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