Organized religion often impedes the path to spirituality. For many, religion blocks faith.
I often hear “I am spiritual but not religious!” Spirituality without good religion is a sexless marriage.
The SBNR wants to experience the mystical while protesting three imposing forces: Bad religion; Physical science rooted only in the empirical, existential; Rigid societal norms.
Much of our daily exposure to religion is negative, wars, shameful acts. We run from those who abuse religion to control us for their own benefit. Stagnant, inflexible religion is boring. We need religion that welcomes, engages, embraces, and awakens our love for each other. Science only allows for what is tangible and reproducible, but humanity needs more than just the physical. The norms of secular life are also often claustrophobic.
Similarly, much of the discussion around sex is negative. Infidelity. Torquing. Teenage pregnancy. Within a committed relationship, sex confirms love, draws closer, co-creates with God.
As I learn from my patients in their eighth decade of life, the act of sex saves the intimacy of a relationship. Those who live in a sexless marriage have often lost touch with their partner, and live with broken communication. Of course, this does not apply to those who are physically ill.
In seeking spirituality within my religion, over Passover, I realized Fifty Shades of Grey has nothing on Solomon’s Song of Songs! Reading the love poem again set my soul on fire, anew! “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm. For there is love that is strong as death, jealousy demanding as the grave, and many waters cannot quench this love, neither can floods drown it.”
Thinking "I love her" is not enough. Saying "I love you" is not enough. True love demands endearing thoughts, romantic words, as well as concrete actions. That is what is meant by "love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) the greatest teaching of the Bible. Think love, say love, do love. That is the central message of all legitimate religions.
A true religion should enhance faith, a bridge to God. A good religion summons us in community to express love toward one another and toward those less fortunate, and mobilizes us to feed the hungry, dress the poor, heal the fallen and protect the bereaved. Spirituality guides our feelings while religion guides our actions. Spirituality is inward while religion leads outward. Spirituality can be practiced alone, but religion in community. When spirituality makes us more empathetic, religion impels us to perform concrete acts of loving-kindness.
Transcendence without discipline is similar to irresponsible sex. Sex in the context of marriage and spirituality in the context of religion are far superior to either without the other.
Just as therapists help drifting partners reconnect by proper expression of their love for one another, so too, do good clergy help us connect with God through prayer. Through religion we draw closer to God even when we don’t feel spiritual. Sometimes action leads to feelings. Sometimes physical love leads to emotional love. We need intimacy with our Creator. Marriage needs work. So does our devotion to God.
So, the next time you seek romance through lighting candles, pouring a cup of wine, filling the room with the dinner’s aroma, and playing sweet music, think of how these acts parallel “Boi Kallah” when we welcome Shabbat’s Bride. God surely works in mysterious ways.